Modernizing a Desktop Application? Don’t Forget About the User Experience.

Jim Ross / Friday, April 27, 2018

So, you want to modernize an old desktop application by redesigning it as a modern web-based application? There is more to consider than merely the technical platform and the look and feel. To ensure that you add innovative and useful improvements to your application, follow a UX Design process. 

User Experience is often defined as the overall feeling, or experience, that a person has when using a product or service, but UX is also a process for designing innovative and useful solutions. The four main steps in the UX design process are:

  • Research
  • Interaction Design
  • Aesthetic Design
  • Evaluate & Iterate (throughout both design phases listed above)

The purpose of the research process is to understand the design problem and to discover the business and user needs. By understanding the business needs, the users’ wants and needs, and the technical constraints, you can design a great user experience.

Venn diagram showing overlap of business needs, user wants, user needs, and technical constraints

The first step in the research process is to understand the business needs. Conduct interviews and workshops with business stakeholders to learn about their goals and requirements for the application. 

Next, conduct user research to learn about what the users want and need. There is a difference between wants and needs. Wants are requirements that users can easily identify, whereas needs are deeper requirements that users may not be able to consciously identify. To learn what users really need, conduct observational research. Observe users performing their typical tasks in the environment in which they normally perform those tasks. Learn about the users’ characteristics, their tasks, the tools and information sources they use, and their physical and social environment. Talking with users will identify what they want, but observation will reveal deeper insights into what they really need. 

Finally, in addition to learning about business and user needs, consider the technical constraints. You may think of the ideal solution to meet both business and user needs, but it has to fit within realistic technical constraints. 

Interaction Design
With the knowledge you’ve gained from the research phase, begin sketching out design ideas on a whiteboard. Then refine your sketches on paper, laying out the overall elements that will be on the screens, and specifying the interactions between the users and the system.

Design sketches

Next, create wireframes, which are low-fidelity, black and white designs that focus on the basics of layout and interaction. Creating your wireframes in a prototyping tool, like Indigo Design, allows you to link screens together and simulate interactions. The ability to click through a prototype makes it much easier for project team members, stakeholders, and usability testing participants to understand how the design will work.

Wireframe prototype

Aesthetic Design
Early in the project, visual designers can work with the business stakeholders to learn about their vision for the design direction of the application. On our projects, visual designers create style tiles, which show different design directions that clients can choose from. Later, the chosen visual design direction can be applied to the final wireframes to create mockups that show what the actual screens will look like.

Visual design screen

Evaluation & Iteration
Throughout the Interaction Design and Aesthetic Design phases, we continually review our designs to the clients and project team to get their feedback and to make changes, as needed. We also conduct usability testing, in one-on-one sessions with representative users. We ask usability testing participants to attempt to perform tasks in the application. If we see that many of them have problems understanding or performing certain tasks, we know those represent problems that we need to redesign. 

Once we have an interaction design and aesthetic design that our clients are satisfied with and that have tested well with users, we create a design specifications document that provides the developers with all of the details they need to know to build the designs. 

The Role of User Experience
User experience is a design process that allows you to understand the nature of the problems to be solved. By understanding the business needs, the users’ needs and wants, and the technical constraints, you can create innovative, useful solutions.