What happens during Data Consolidation, Visioning, and Storyboarding?
Data consolidation is the level at which individual interviews are analyzed. A good method of processing observations from a bottom-up design approach (piecing together systems to give rise to grander systems) is by making affinity diagrams. Single observations are written on a piece of paper. These are then grouped according to the similarity of their contents. These groups represent a distinct level in the hierarchy and can be color coded to affect distinction. The various groups are then combined to get a final construct of observations in a hierarchy of up to three levels. A set of personas describing typical users of a proposed system or user interface design can be created using the consolidated data. Visioning is akin to brainstorming, but distinctly it is the gathering of a cross-functional team in order to create stories or visions of how new product concepts, services, and technology can better support a user in accomplishing her tasks. After determining key issues and opportunities from the consolidated data, the visioning team sets out to generate new concepts by way of scenarios of use. However a vision needs to be accompanied by the system, its delivery, and support structures but must always be told from the point of view of the user. These visions are then fleshed out further through the use of Storyboarding, a way of visualizing and enriching scenarios of use.
What roles do User Environment Design and wireframe prototypes play in Contextual Design?
User Environment Design is the stage of Contextual Design whereby the stories created begin to become more refined in terms of product and system requirements. What are the different parts of the system? What functions are available in each part? How do all these components support and enhance a user's work? Questions like these and more need to be answered at this stage. A User Environment Design (UED) diagram is used to point out focus areas. These are functions in a system that are visible in the UI or relevant to the user. The UED diagram also displays how focus areas relate and link to each other. Once a product or user interface design has been defined then it becomes necessary to create and test out prototypes on users. Prototypes test the structure of a UED for usability issues but are also great as a communication tool for stakeholders of a project to flesh out user interface design ideas. Prototyping can be done through the use of paper prototypes (hand drawn or printed out) or, even more recommended, through interactive wireframe prototypes. (Wireframes can be described as a blueprint of the user interface.) These have the benefits of linking between the different pages as they were a functioning website or application and can incorporate function widgets or stencils. Wireframe prototypes can be created with wireframing tools such as Pidoco, which even features a Remote Usability Testing option.
Just like with many other products and services, contextual design also matters in user interface design. Successful UI designs are ones that help users accomplish tasks as easily and quickly as possible. Contextual design is all about knowing which functions and features are needed to accomplish that and how they need to be designed, given the specific context of the user. Taking the time out to conduct research will give user interface designers the knowledge required which they can then fashion into concepts and wireframes on the road to creating great user interface designs.