Designer Insight for Developers: A series of tips to help developers improve their interfaces

By: Lea Puckett

know thy people

Being the sole designer in a company our size can be a daunting task. With 100’s projects, I’m not always able to jump in and help when there are interface woes. I’ve been wondering for the past several months how I can make a bigger impact without going through the awkward process of cloning myself.

After our company meeting, Unplugged, it came to me. I needed to take the approach of working smarter rather than harder. In this instance, it means I need to share more of my knowledge, rather than piling on more projects. So this post marks the beginning of my knowledge transfer to developers who want to enhance their interface design skills.

Know Thy People

Typically, this is called “Know Thy User”, but I’ve changed it to people. I believe using the generic term user removes emotions from the equation, which is wrong. People use our applications and people are emotional creatures. It’s in our best interest not to forget this crucial point.

You need to get an understanding of the people who will be using your application by any means possible. Conduct interviews. If you can’t talk to people in-person or via phone, talk to someone who can give some insight. Some information, even secondhand, is useful. Gather whatever data you can find. Be it Google Analytics reports, 3rd party resources, or internal analytic reports. Perform user tests. If a system already exists, gather some users and run them through some of the core tasks the application does. This can be done in-person or remotely. There are several tools out there that can help you out with recording sessions remotely and locally so you can share with a broader group.

If it’s a new application, get wireframes in front of the users, so you can get feedback as soon as possible. The sooner you catch issues, the easier and cheaper they are to change. Don’t worry about things being polished. People like to be involved in the process and see their feedback acted upon.

After all of this curating, you should have a better understanding of how your people differ, what their goals are, what their needs are, how they think, and how they feel. You will begin to see trends/similarities between them, which will provide you with natural groupings. By having these groups to design for, this allows you to focus on the important features that meet the needs of the group instead of random individuals. This makes your job easier.
You maybe be uncomfortable with conducting interviews/talking with strangers and tempted to skip this part, please don’t. You will end up creating something that you “think” is what they want, but the flaw there is it’s your thoughts not the people who will be using the application. So boldly go where you haven’t before and get out there and talk to people!

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About GISi
Geographic Information Services, Inc. (GISi), is a professional services GIS consulting firm established in 1991 and headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. The GISi team consists of highly experienced, educated professionals known for thought leadership and mission-critical thinking in the fields of geography, planning, environmental science and information technology. GISi is an industry leader in the innovative use of geospatial technology. As a professional services organization with strong technical capabilities and a culture of service excellence, GISi has an unparalleled reputation of enabling customer success. GISi helps organizations turn data into insight by leveraging spatial technology merged with tabular data for visualization and analytical capabilities. Additionally, GISi's sole focus is helping organizations derive maximum value from their ESRI investment through installation, configuration, data processing, custom development, and training services. GISi maintains a strong relationship with ESRI and has been a member of its Business Partner Program for more than 15 years. GISi has been honored by ESRI eight times in the last seven years for its innovative work in the ArcGIS environment including the inaugural ESRI Foundation Partner Award, Southeast Region Business Partner of the Year, and Most Valuable Programmer (MVP) Award for six years running.

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