Incorporating semantic technologies into applications is more practical than ever, and so the uses – and range of users – have become very broad. As leaders in this industry find ways to incorporate these advances into new products, we have to be as innovative with the human element… the user experience.
How and when do you incorporate user experience design activities into your process? What questions are answered, and what value does it bring?
It helps to reflect on the role of UX through an example where it is second nature. We often use the metaphor of a dinner party to explore the intersections between user research, experience design, data design, and technology development.
Know Who’s Coming (User Research)
A successful dinner party is one that cares about the people who are there, and plans an experience that meets and exceeds their expectations. Are the people compatible socially? Do you know their interests and concerns? Have you learned if they have any allergies or diet preferences, so you don’t give them something they find unpleasant or harmful?
Designing an application or information interface requires similar thoughtful attention to the people who will be coming to the experience. What tasks bring them to you? What do they know coming in and what do they want as an outcome? What are their preferences, expectations, and mental models?
At the start, it is vital to thoughtfully consider all aspects of your audience / user landscape and to really see your tools and interfaces from their perspectives.
Gather Ingredients (Linked Data)
To support a rich experience, you gather high quality ingredients that work well together, and the right quantity to satisfy without overwhelming. A lot of care and concern goes into identifying ingredients that blend well and satisfy people’s expectations. Ingredients include common items that serve as the base for many dishes, unique homegrown items, and specialties brought in from the outside.
The data is the heart of the application, providing the right level of depth and clarity to meet each user’s information needs. The leverage available from semantic technologies lets us build on the relationships within the data – and so serves the user in achieving their goals in the application.
Design the Experience (User Experience)
Everything comes together seamlessly and nothing is left to chance. The guests’ preferences and the available ingredients blend into the menu and the way the experience flows from course to course. The placement of items increases convenience, ease of movement, and promotes social interaction between the guests. The overall theme and visual style help people feel comfortable and at home while they are there.
Application design is the same – incorporating all we know about the users, their context and tasks, the technology environment, and the available linked data into a seamless experience that is comfortable, effective, and pleasing. Good design doesn’t just happen, it is crafted thoughtfully and carefully, based upon industry best practices, innovative thinking, and clear understanding of the user and information landscape.
Prepare for Delivery (Technology)
Preparation requires an appropriate infrastructure (kitchen and fixed appliances) and specialized tools that are used on an ad hoc basis in order to bring the planned menu to fruition. The tools must be appropriate to the needed tasks and convenient and usable for the chef. The sequence of preparation is guided by the ingredients, the flow of the meal, and a clear vision of the overall experience.
Guided by the design and the needs of the users, the underlying delivery architecture, services, and UI toolkits bring the user experience to life.
The Experience Evolves
That’s not the end of the story. Designing and developing an application is like hosting the party every week – we are always listening to our users’ feedback, incorporating new ingredients and recipes, adding new venues and activities, and incorporating new techniques into the development process.
Attention to audience, tasks, linked data, and thoughtful design together provides a positive user experience with your product.
See it all come together: http://www.designforcontext.com/files/dfc_semantic_services.pdf
NOTE: Duane Degler will present Supporting Relevance for Users – a Design Challenge at the Semantic Technology & Business Conference on Monday, June 3, 2013.
About the Author
Duane Degler is a partner in Design for Context, a Washington DC/Baltimore-based usable design consultancy. He has designed numerous web and semantics-based applications and sites, backed by 25 years consulting experience in knowledge management and business performance. He has led software projects for commercial and government clients in the US and Europe – his specialty areas include designing for large-scale search capabilities and semantic-driven interactive applications.