An interesting and productive day today! Lots of work completed on both the Broads project and the report that I am writing on evaluating successful user-centred design.

Broads project

Today, we chose concepts to focus on, started to think about exactly what each site we had visited had to offer in terms of satisfying the three themes and began to think more about app functionality and what we could achieve at each site.

Concepts

Following the ideation session that we had on Tuesday, we continued thinking about concepts for this digital service for the Broads. We began by looking at some of the thematic concepts that we came up with as a group on Tuesday and decided on the best three. We decided that we’d like to focus on:

  • ‘An adventure for the senses’
  • ‘Discover what nature is hiding’
  • ‘Escape to explore’

We liked these concepts because they convey the following ideas:

  • The Broads are a ‘hidden treasure’ waiting to be explored.
  • They convey the idea that the Broads are exciting.
  • ‘Nature’ conveys the idea that the Broads are natural and are beautiful.
  • ‘Explore’ suggests that there are things to find, things to do, experiences to be had and so on.
  • ‘Senses’ suggests that the Broads aren’t just all about the looks – it’s also about the smell, the touch/feel and even the taste (‘pub grub’?)

The first two themes are probably the strongest ones with very definite interpretations, the last one suffers from being very open to interpretation – especially the word ‘escape’, which could be interpreted as:

  • ‘Escaping’ from your house to go and visit the Broads (this is probably the most literal interpretation).
  • ‘Escaping the rut’ to visit the broads – i.e. doing something different, doing something exciting, doing something interesting as opposed to your ‘boring’ daily routine.
  • ‘Escape’ from your problems, whatever they may be, to go and explore something else.
We reviewed the concept ideas that we came up with on Tuesday.

Design considerations

We spent some time considering what the digital solution should actually be and what kind of a user journey the user would have using it.

I wrote about the pros and cons of apps and responsive websites in this post – today we decided that this is definitely going to be a responsive website because that mitigates the need to download and install software, makes it more compatible on a wider range of devices and is very easy to access by either typing a URL into the browser or using a QR code scanner. The user would need to download a QR code scanner, but at least they could use this app to scan other QR codes, too.

The basic content hierarchy that was decided on is as follows:

  • Identity/branding at the top of the page in some kind of header.
    • There should be some ‘global identity’ – this could be ‘Water, Mills and Marshes’ (which is the Broads Authority’s official title for the project which this app/website sub-project falls into it).
    • There should also be some ‘local identity’, which would be something that identifies the site that the user is currently at, for example something depicting Burgh Castle
  • Point of interest.
    • Like the local identity, something depicting where the user is.
    • Some brief information about the location.

Motivations for using our responsive web app were generally:

  • Objective-based: explore the senses, see sights, hear sounds specific to the Broads or the location.
  • Age-based: different age groups may have different motivations.
  • Theme-based: learn specifically about the history, geography and ecology of specific locations.

We discussed for a while if there should be separate experiences for adults and children, my thoughts were:

  • It would be twice as much work to do this.
  • It would be difficult to ‘switch’ between children’s and adult’s versions of the same experience after committing to using one.
  • Without much more user research, it is very difficult to decide what adults and children want – what’s to say an adult doesn’t want something that uses AR or something similar? What’s to say a child doesn’t want to find out about history? Even after research has been carried out, it would be impossible to know exactly what every adult and child wants as everybody is different.

I designed the user flow diagram mentioned later in this article with this in mind.

Determining which locations fitted which themes was interesting. I have been mentioning what I feel works best in the various posts I’ve written about this project – the table below shows which themes the sites I have visited so far fit.

Site Cultural Heritage Landscape Heritage Ecology & Biodiversity
Breydon Water X X X
Burgh Castle X X X
Carlton Marshes X X
Somerleyton Brick Works X

 

More details are shown below.

 

Site Cultural Heritage Landscape Heritage Ecology & Biodiversity
Breydon Water YES – Shipping & transportation history YES – The formation of Breydon Water and geographical processes YES – Birds, there is a bird-watching hut
Burgh Castle YES – Fortress history and Roman links YES – The formation of Breydon Water and geographical processes YES – The reeds and the wildlife there at the bottom of the hill
Carlton Marshes NO – Only has weak links to the human reasons for digging drainage channels YES – The construction of the drainage channels and what they do YES – Water mammals and other wildlife in the nature reserve
Somerleyton Brick Works YES – The industrial connections to the factory NO – Only has very weak links to Somerleyton Marina’s construction NO – Very little special wildlife here

 

Most of the sites have some connection to at least two of the three themes. For a site to be worthwhile developing this app for, it really needs to be suitable for at least two themes.

Breydon Water and Burgh Castle are the two favourite sites so far, but they are very different sites:

  • Breydon Water is much harder to access than Burgh Castle and it is harder to find free parking.
  • Burgh Castle is a managed site with interpretation boards, dedicated hard-standing walkways and tourist facilities, whereas Breydon Water has none of these things.
  • Breydon Water contains little in the way of landmarks, whereas at Burgh Castle there are the fortress reamins.

The two also have the same ‘content’ for the landscape heritage theme, meaning that if this web app were going to be developed at both sites then either one site would focus on all three themes and the other just on two, or each would focus on the two strongest ones. Breydon Water and Burgh Castle are within walking distance along the Angles Way, so it would pointless to the user to repeat the information about landscape heritage. Breydon Water would likely be the ideal candidate to learn about landscape heritage at because the user would be able to see with their own eyes what was formed over thousands of years of glaciation. The ecology theme could be combined because wildlife is likely similar at both sites and both sites have reeds, but the history aspects could be individual to the two sites.

Carlton Marshes is further away and has different wildlife and landscape to the sites in/near Great Yarmouth, so that would have its own experiences if the web app was developed this far.

Designing a user flow for an experience

Using the 360 degree image idea explained in the previous post, I designed a user flow showing how a user would interact with such an experience on a smartphone. The purpose of doing this was not to produce a beautiful high-fidelity prototype that worked, rather as an alternative to a paper prototype to test with a focus group tomorrow. Tomorrow (February 1st), we are going to Beccles to meet the Women’s Institute, a potential user group of an app like this. The user flow that I initially drew (and then made a digital version of using Axure RP and Adobe Illustrator) does not look terribly uniform or polished, but it gives an idea about what the interaction experience could be like and also gives these people a chance to validate the idea and discuss whether it’s something they’d like to use or not, without saying ‘this is the final idea’ or spending a lot of time and money developing something that doesn’t work for the user.

I initially drew a series of rough wireframes onto paper.

The user flow above shows:

Screen 1

  • User lands on this page, immediately they are presented with some global visual identity at the top of the page in the shape of a logo in a header and some local identity in the form of a picture of Burgh Castle (in this example), shown right across the page.
  • The call-to-action is the pulsing downwards arrow button which has the text ‘Explore Burgh Castle’ above it. The user clicks this button and they are taken to screen 2.

Screen 2

  • The user arrives here either by clicking on the explore button or by scrolling the page themselves.
  • Here, the user reads some information about the location and then has the opportunity to decide what it is they want to learn about. I’ve made the assumption that most people won’t understand the theme names the Broads Authority have used, so I’ve used simplified versions, e.g. ‘the landscape’ replaces ‘landscape heritage’. The use of the word ‘explore’ in the title above these buttons gives some excitement and suggests that are hidden things to be found.

Screen 3

  • The 360 degree image opens up – this is an image depicting how the site would have looked just after it had been built in approximately 300 AD to give the user an idea about how the site may have looked and what might have been going on. The user can easily exit this view or find out more information by tapping on the pulsing upwards arrow button, labelled ‘Find out more’.

Screen 4

  • Some text appears on the screen, covering the image, explaining the history of what the user is seeing. Not in the wireframes, but there could be a button that reads this description aloud for those who prefer audio to reading the screen.

Presenting each of these screens to the WI will enable them to give us their thoughts on whether or not this is an ideal solution. It’s not going to be as informative as a proper paper prototyping session with bits of paper to move around to show and hide objects and so on would be, but it will give a better idea than simply describing the concept to them would.

I converted the drawings into digital wireframes by creating the wireframe of each screen in Axure RP and then overlaying it onto a template of a Samsung Galaxy S8 that I made a while ago for something similar and printed each screen onto a separate piece of paper. The only major difference between the paper and digital versions of these wireframes are that the image symbol (the box with a cross in it) was replaced by Axure’s default ‘image placeholder’ to show the WI that this is where images will be. These are what I’ll show to the WI tomorrow.

I also made a user flow diagram for myself using Microsoft Visio – this won’t be shown to the WI as to not confuse them. Download the full resolution PDF of this diagram here.

I created digital versions of my wireframes in Axure RP and Adobe Illustrator and then used Microsoft Visio to create a user flow diagram, shown below.

 

This is the user flow diagram showing the interactions between screens. I made this for my own sake and this won’t be shown to the WI.

 

The black and white prints of my wireframes, ready to present to the WI.

What’s next?

Go to Beccles and test these wireframes out with the WI and find out what it is that they like and dislike and whether they feel that these would be suited for their uses. The research tomorrow will be slightly different in that we have this to validate, as well as the usual questions to ask to find out what it is that they’d like in something like this and what they do at the Broads currently.

It will be interesting to see what the WI have to say about my concepts for the design. Usability and user-centred design is very important in this practice, of course: ‘I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity’ is a great quote about usability and how potentially complex things should be made as simple to use as possible. But it’s not that simple, as Giles Colborne explains in his book: ‘There are two kinds of simplicity. The first kind comes early on in our exploration of a problem. Our knowledge is incomplete, our ideas simplistic, we oversimplify, and we lose something important. But as we get into a problem, we discover how complex it is. There are questions, subtleties and interdependencies that we hadn’t expected. At this point, our solutions are also complex.’ It’s important not to ensure that potential features and abilities of the software are overlooked by users who can’t see that they are right in their face.

‘Evaluating successful user-centred design’ report

It’s been a little while since I wrote about this report, but today I had half an hour with Tom Haczewski, founder of The User Story, to discuss user-centred design in the context of a case study and how employing user-centred design and research helped a business save money and gain more clients and also in a more general context. I’ve just completed a 3-4 month work placement at The User Story, so Tom was a good choice to talk to this about because I was able to have an informal chat about it and record it all due to knowing him and being comfortable talking to him. The details he gave in our discussion about the case study were probably detailed enough to replace one of my smaller case studies and use this one instead. The case study I am thinking of replacing this with is weaker than this one, but has third party sources – but I’m sure I could find a third party source or review. Even if I don’t use the case study, there are some great quotes from Tom that define user-centred design from the perspective of a professional UX designer.

The chat with Tom was excellent and also very helpful and insightful. I’ve contacted four or five professionals over the past few months and Tom is the only one who has gotten back in touch with me so far. I’m not sure if there’s time to contact any others at this point. I’ll see how the report is standing when I add this content into it.

What’s next?

The report currently stands at around 2,850 words. Theoretically I have up to 3,300 words but replacing case studies is going to adjust the word count again. I think I’ll be able to add this content into the report next week and still have a week or so to proof-read this report again and adjust any more content.

Tom Haczewski from The User Story gave me insight for my report today.

References

Colborne, Giles (2010) Simple and Usable Web, Mobile and Interaction Design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders (pp. 17)