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I work for a company that builds patient safety software; basically a records management system. However, a large portion of the application is focused on administrative tasks that do not bear any relation to tasks in the real-world domain. Some of these tasks are common to many applications - form design, user and permissions management - but others are more unique to the application, such as creating codes for categorising records and putting these codes into hierarchies.

My question is how can I use user-research to inform the design of tools to manage these concepts? How can I test these tools given the users who are not familiar with the system will have no understanding of these concepts? Should it be assumed that training will be required for users to use these tools?

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Good question. My approach to this would be something along these lines:

1) With regard to the forms, find out the existing process used by the users (the administrative staff), what content they provide in those forms and what mediums they use (Is it paper based, is it in Excel, is it in a Word document, is it online?). Once you have that information, sit down with some of the key stakeholders and determine what critical information is gathered through those processes and what your form or design should reflect. Your basic objective is to create the form in such a way that you are able to gather the information they are looking for but in a minimalistic way.

2) With regard to the code creation and entering it into the hierarchy, the immediate step would be to understand the needs for the codes and where those codes come from. Once you have that information, try to understand how that information is being entered and how it is processed by the existing system and what the corresponding challenges, if any, are. This information should be able to set you on the path of being able to decide what the system needs and, perhaps, how to design it.

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Thanks for the reply. In my specific case, I'm performing a re-design, so I'll be able to use the existing system as a reference point for how users think about setting up hierarchies and where the problems could be. Just to clarify, by form design, I meant an interface to allow administrators to design forms for end-users, like you might have in a CMS. –  James Dec 2 '11 at 10:20
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Q3 - Should it be assumed that training will be required for users to use these tools?

A - If you can provide training, then this means that the interface itself has to 'do a lot less of the work' in getting ideas across to users.

There's also an argument for 'making it look complicated'

If you make the interface look easy to use - then users will skip reading the manual / going on the training course - and will muddle their way through it (probably failing to understand a few things on the way). If it looks 'unguessable' then they are more likely to actually to actually read the manual from page 1 / pay attention on the training course...

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