Example of UCD/IA Process (Part 1)

In user centred design (UCD), we use knowledge of the users and their goals to determine what information products might be useful to them. We can do this at a number of different scales, from an overall process to individual tasks within the process. This two part case study takes a high level business goal and uses UCD processes to help define appropriate information solutions.

Here’s the case:

User research at our client, an IT Solutions Consultancy, has identified a common business scenario, that of a consultant visiting an office in another city. Most consultants do this infrequently, so we have been asked to add a microsite to the corporate intranet to make sure they do it correctly and in compliance with corporate processes.

Before reading on, you might want to approach this yourself to see what you come up with.

Our process will be:

  • identifying the user activities
  • identifying what types of information might support those activities
  • determining whether there are sources for that information
  • packaging the information.

We will cover the first two stages in this part, and the second two stages in part two.

Identifying User Activities
This step identifies what activities the consultant will go through. Using a concrete example sometimes helps the team imagine or recollect activities, perhaps something like “Roger is travelling to the Portland office for a three day session working with colleagues on a presentation to a major client”.

There are usually themes or organizing principles that can help us identify the activities. Later, we may or may not use the same principles to present the information.

What might some organizing principles be?  For Roger, we could take a chronological perspective, and imagine watching a mental movie of him on his trip. Sometimes we might identify focus areas such as Before the Trip, Travelling, In Portland, Policies, Tools and Paperwork. Roger’s travel activities would begin before the trip, maybe checking the weather to see what clothes to take, and end with him submitting expenses. Sometimes we have to be quite granular in our movie. We might imagine Roger getting his working environment set up, wireless network, access card, figuring how to use the projector. And we might want to think about him filling in any dead time outside the project hours.

The following shows part of the list:

BEFORE THE TRIP
Check weather
Check local events
Book travel
Book hotel

AT THE OFFICE
Get to the office
Get access card
Connect to wireless network
Print documents
Display presentation

OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
Go to restaurant
Do recreation

PAPERWORK
Submit expenses

Other projects will have different organizing principles. They may not jump out as readily, but it is worth digging for them. For example, if we are asked to design a micro-site for managerial staff, the chronological perspective is not so as useful (although it does make us think about transitioning into and out of the role). Focus areas might include What Is Expected of Managers, Management Skills Development, Employees (on-boarding, reviews, off-boarding), Policies, Tools and Paperwork, Scheduled Events.

Identifying Candidate Information Types
Once we have a list of activities, we can look for information that might help Roger fulfil these activities. Casting the net wide at this point through user research and brainstorming, we might come up with the information shown in italics.

BEFORE THE TRIP
Check weather
     External weather sites
Check local events
     External events sites
Book travel
     Policies and procedures, recommended carriers, loyalty points
     Information about reservation process (online, person)
     Tools to make the reservation
Book hotel
     Similar to travel

AT THE OFFICE
Get to the office
     Address, map
Get access card
     Process
Connect to wireless network
     Network and connection information
Print documents
     Printer locations, capabilities, and configurations
Display presentation
     How to use the projector

OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
Go to restaurant
     Restaurant listing
Do recreation
     Recreation listings

PAPERWORK
     FAQ about expenses
     How to submit expenses
     Expense submission tool

So far, we have come up with a set of information that might be useful to the consultant, based on task or activity modelling, and then brainstorming the information that might be useful.

If we proposed the above structure as an intranet page, would we have a good solution? To be honest, I’ve seen worse, but there are two activities to do before floating a proposal.

First, checking the information availability. This asks the questions:

  • does the information we proposed actually exist
  • if so, where do we get it, and what are its characteristics
  • if not, what would be involved in creating it, would it apply corporate wide or would it be office specific.

Second, packaging the information. This asks the questions:

  • does the consultant need all of this information all of the time (the answer is no!)
  • what information might he need at different times, and how might we package it.

Answering this question involves doing some more granular user modelling. One outcome is that it might modify our initial project brief to build a microsite on the corporate intranet.

We address both of these topics in part 2.

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