Developer’s Guide to User Experience Design

Michael Mahemoff has a background in computer science and psychology earning a PhD in building pattern languages. Michael is best known for his book, Ajax Design Patterns, where he catalogs 34 patterns commonly found in Ajax applications. Michael’s further work with pattern languages define patterns found in safety-critical systems.

Being a User Experience Designer

Some programmers may get hung up on not being able to design for user experience because they feel they are not artistic enough. In fact, user experience is much more than the user interface.

*** Berry postulates in his article The User Experience that the elements of an application fall along the following lines:

  • User interface: 10%
  • Human/computer dialog (work flow): 30%
  • System functions: 60 %

Real-World Usability Studies

When trying to figure out how to best design for your users, Mahemoff suggests that developers and designers become “software anthropologists”. Rather than simply asking individuals what they want from a system, you can learn much more by simply watching people do their job.

In a real-world application of this approach Mahemoff helped move from a system where user micro-managed data to where their interaction with the system is more likened to “steering a ship”.

These changes came from a series of observation sessions where Michael sat with the users at varied times to try and get a comprehensive sense of the problems they were trying to solve. The key to his research was being with his subjects at varied times. This allowed him to see the permutations of the business process against critical events in the workflow.

What Do You Look For?

When designing a system there are a number of questions that may not be obvious to developers who are concerned with “heads down coding”. Gain perspective of the business domain by considering the following:

  • What pressures from management, peers or culture may affect the workflow?
  • How often do people take breaks? What happens after they return?
  • How do people and the business react during critical workflow events?

How Do You Keep Your Subjects Honest?

Hawthorne effect suggests that people may change their behavior while being observed. So how do you conduct un-biased your research?

  • Observe for a long period of time
  • Be explicit of your reasons for observing
  • Don’t overbearing – sit back and watch