User experience – the challenge in characterizing generic systems

Iris Baz

UX Designer

User experience

The challenge, in a nutshell: if a dedicated system is built according to predefined principles and use scripts, in the first versions of a generic system, it cannot always be known who the main users of the system and what the common use scripts will be.

One of the challenges in the user experience field is the great difference in the character of products. There are systems whose users will be defined at the beginning of their development, along with their use environments and use scripts. I define these as dedicated systems.

In an operational system installed in an armored fighting vehicle, users and uses that are known in advance are characterized. When a CT system is being designed, it is obvious who the user segments will be, and in the characterization of applications such as Waze, developers have a good general idea about who the users will be, what their goal is and how they will use the tool.

In contrast, do you know PowerPoint and its stablemates from Microsoft’s Office series? I define these as generic systems. Why?

These are tools whose users are mostly defined only in general lines. They do not have the same levels of skill and experience, they arrive from diverse fields and their needs differ when one looks at their purposes of use.

You can find a general definition, which Microsoft drafted nicely:

“You have a story to tell. PowerPoint can help”. But again, this is only a general definition. Every user will find his own way to complete the “story”. One will create a presentation based on static slides only, another will use a text document, some will use animations and live video and maybe they will create a film, to users who will used advanced technologies such as 3D.

User experience – the challenge

User experience – how to overcome the challenge?

I can tell you already: the main solutions are the advance preparations and the number of users who can be enrolled along the way.

First and foremost: gathering of raw information

This is the stage in the user experience characterization in which the maximum amount of information on the needs of future users is gathered.

Where is the information found? From existing users (if there is a previous version of a system, or a competing system), among potential users and on the Web (reviews that have been written about the system, if given, information about the field to which the system belongs and more).
In fact, any information that you gather (needs, challenges, frustrations, system use habits, solutions, etc.) will reduce some of the uncertainty.

User experience – the next stage: the information catalog

It is recommended to divide the findings into two main categories:

1. Users – gathering of characteristics on existing and potential users:

  • What are their occupation fields and interests?
  • What needs are they using the system for?
  • Their use environments for the system and more.

In effect, we create a situation in which we identify similar characteristics, to establish later defined user groups, for which we will begin to characterize the user experience.

2. Needs – with all the foregoing, it is still possible to find common needs for many users, which are usually basic key needs, constituting the premises for defining the user experience.

The catalog stage for subgroups:

When we have the minimum amount of information, we will start to form the picture using internal divisions:

1. Users:

A. Primary users – we will look for the best match between the key questions:

  • What is the purpose of the system?
  • Whom is it intended for?
  • What are the general characteristics of the user that we have identified?
  1. Secondary, casual users – we will also look for the users whom the system will serve for localized points, at certain times, rather than as a central work tool.
  2. Needs:
    A. Prominent needs – concentration of prominent needs will make it easier to decide where to begin from and where we are heading for.
    B. Challenges and difficulties – just as important as needs. To the extent that this data can be gathered, it will be possible to prevent user experience problems from emerging later on.
    C. Nice to have – this group is an important bonus for later on. In effect, these are various features that will facilitate and upgrade the system in a manner that does not exist in similar systems and/or that exists in a more complex manner. This may be creating sets that are prepared in advance, shortcuts, and more.

Once we look at all data in an organized manner, it will be easier to start working, with a key basic action of cross-referencing users and needs. This applies in general in user experience characterization and all the more so when this information is our “bread and butter”.

Characterize a “lean”, “restrained” version of the user experience.

Due to the fact that user experience characterization for a generic system involves a lot of uncertainty, try to characterize it restrainedly, meaning: focusing on the basics (you can add a nice to have feature or too), to save development time, release it as soon as possible and get feedback from real users, making it possible to fine tune things that have already been developed and an understanding of what should be developed in the next stages.