What is UCD and how does it relate to the mobile user experience?

So what is this ‘user-centred design’ (or UCD) you have been hearing about? Well it comes down to you really! As the user you are bombarded with a plethora of experiences and interactions through websites everyday. UCD is a design philosophy in which your needs, wants and constraints are taken into consideration at each stage of the design process.

So what is the process of getting to know your users? Knowing the different processes of UCD and how to fulfil a mobile user experience is a task that takes quite a bit of research and time delving into different models and approaches. There are many processes, models and tools that you can use for UCD the question arises which is right and which is wrong? Which one works and which one doesn’t?

Knowing the Tools and Process of UCD

Generally when starting a project you gather knowledge such as your target market or target audience. This is a good start, from here usually people will look at business objectives and then start to re-arrange user objectives to suit…This is where it can start to go pear-shaped!

Business objectives are great but without the user in mind as a main element to the project processes the end result could be a bit business orientated and alienating to the user.

Tools such as personas, scenario building and use-case can greatly help your client see the objective of different users.

It is all a hypotheses until you place it in front of a user and test.

With the view that it is a hypotheses, it comes to a point where the tools and methods you are using are subjective, as each user scenario is created by you and/or the client, though the main goal is to achieve focus in the area you want your users to go to, it is still just hypotheses till it is delivered to the users to test.

Designing for a UCD Approach

For web designers the process is similar to designing for websites. However there are some additional considerations with mobile designs, such as screen resolution, device constraints and features and issues with connectivity.

A crucial question is, do you really need a mobile site? Most websites probably do not need a mobile dedicated site/app and so delving into this process can be lengthy and a waste of time. While there is the opinion that everything will be “mobile web” soon, doing a quick analytics check on the breakdown of your desktop to mobile visitors and what operating system they use to access your site, will quickly tell you if you really need to provide a mobile site. This simple check could save you lots of time and money! Google analytics can do this operating system to browser analysis breakdown.

If your analysis reveals that you really do need a mobile site, next steps are, how can you determine that a mobile site will complement your website and be of use to users? Basically you need to identify the core functionality of the site and content that users will find useful on a mobile setting, while still fulfilling your own business objectives.

Certain questions that are useful to determining if you require a mobile site are:

  • Would users find the information useful and can they access the information on a limited connection/speed?
  • Are there features/areas of my site that would have a better function as a mobile accessed site/app?
  • Can a mobile site/app enrich the experience for users?
  • Do you need a dedicated mobile site/app or is it viewable as a full website on mobile devices? Is it too content heavy?
  • Can you break the mobile site/app down so that the main areas are shown on the mobile site/app?

Who are the users and what do they want?

UCD methodology answers questions regrading the task and goals of users. These answers can then be used to make decisions about design and development of the mobile site/app.

When addressing what users want, knowing your target audience is crucial, particuarly key things such as what they want out of the content, what is their experience with the content and what functions do the users need.

Knowing your target market, identifying your key user groups and creating personas will help you create better designs for your users. The key here is the more you understand about your user the better you can design something for their needs.

Mobile design considerations

When designing for mobiles, there are certain things that need to be taken into consideration such as smaller screen sizes, simplified navigation, prioritization of content, design for connectivity issues, minimising user input and steps to goal plus many more depending on the content you want the users to view and the mobile functionality that you can build in.

The UCD Mobile Process and Testing

This process is very similar to a website process and there are many ways to “skin a cat” as the saying goes, but with UCD and mobile design; designing, prototyping and then testing are the three crucial stages for effectively seeing if your user interaction is correct and how this correlates from content to user.

Testing your mobile design with users is a crucial step. There are many tools out there to do user-testing such as online cases, focus groups and online emulators. These will all help you to gather knowledge about if your content/product and design is effective. An example tool is the W3C mobileOK Checker and this great list of mobile emulators: http://www.mobilexweb.com/emulators.

Testing and analysing through Google analytics is also a great way to see how users interact with the content on the site. If you can’t do extensive user testing, you can setup a Google analytics account and use such things as advance segmentation and goal setting to see if your users are going to the right areas.

UCD is the way to go

So when designing a mobile site, good UCD practises help ensure the content is relevant and useful for the users while fulfilling business objectives. No feature should be added to the site just because it is cheap and easy or you ‘think’it is a good idea. UCD and mobile user experience should go hand in hand to create a richer experience for the user, this means marrying great functionality with content that matters.

About the Author

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Mirko Humbert

Mirko Humbert is the editor-in-chief and main author of Designer Daily and Typography Daily. He is also a graphic designer and the founder of WP Expert.