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Monday, December 17, 2007

Imroving your system design

The excellent Matt Hodgson has an excellent post over the weekend on system design. I’ve cut and pasted it in directly as an aide memoire to myself. A number of them such as Content is King I have highlighted and utilised in other organisations. I’d also like to combine this with McAfees SLATES mnemonic which he developed in terms of Web 2.0 applications. These two elements combined don’t make a bad framework to help increase the usability of a system and improve the satisfaction levels of the end user. At the end of the day – be it intranet, CRM internet site the system has to help the user do their job better and quicker and be a pleasurable experience – otherwise your users will slowly ebb away.

Here’s Matt’s Top 10 list.

1. Know your users: Take time to understand the people who are going to use the system, whether its a website or application.

2. Content is King: Design features and content specifically for your users, not for yourself.

3. Make it logical: The organisation of information and how the navigation works has to be logical to those who will use it.

4. Be consistent: Don’t make people constantly adapt to changes layout, language and navigation paradigms — it makes learning about and using the system very confusing.

5. Make it simple: Using systems should require as little mental effort as possible — there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to get the job done and having to work hard to remember how a system works at the same time.

6. Plain English please!: Do the terms and language used in the system make sense to the people who will use it? Don’t make them learn a whole new vocabulary with words that mean one thing to them but another thing when used in the system. Avoid legalese, bureaucratese and organisational jargon.

7. Make the information scanable: Information should be laid out on the screen so that it has a logical flow for the eye. Don’t make people have to remember that one piece of important information is here, while another piece is somewhere else. Similar pieces of information should be as closely associated as possible.

8. Navigation redundancy: People all think about information in different ways, mostly through association rather than categorisation. This means that you need to provide multiple ways of discovering information — and this doesn’t just mean browse and search. If you use taxonomy, make sure information can go in multiple categories, and complement it with a folksonomy.

9. Design by convention: People have an expectation of how systems and their components will work based on previous experience of other systems. This means you need to make your design comply with those design expectations — banners, navigation, search, login, and even cart features all need to appear according to existing design conventions. This doesn’t mean you can’t innovate — just know what your users expect and make it easy for them to learn your system.

10. Make the design clear: This will help people avoid making mistakes when they use your system. Help them recover from errors through providing consistent messaging in the interface itself.

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