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Usability seems to be placed, after the application is developed. What methods should we look at, when we want to build a user centred application, before we actually create a version for users interaction ?

I know about Personas method but that's all I know. :s

What other methods should we be aware off when developing some user centered applications, before the designed application goes "live" ?

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Usability is not an afterthought. User-centered design is all about making it meet the needs of your users, and the process starts at the beginning. A design project will usually start with some kind of business or organizational need. "We need to build a new (app, site, whatever) because we need to increase revenue, provide something new, or whatever."

Your application will go through many user-centered process if it's designed properly:

  • if you can speak with typical users of the app during needs assessment and requirements gathering then that's a good idea
  • the personas or user archetypes you refer to will be part of this process - if you can round your users into typical types it helps you develop use cases that apply to one or more of them
  • depending on what you're building you may/may not be able to test visual designs, mockups, or wireframes on them
  • at the very least you'll have early prototypes you may test on your users and high fidelity prototypes you pretty much must test with your users (this is about seeing if the design decisions you made to translate requirements into a design actually meet the needs of your users)
  • having iterative cycles of prototype testing allows you to test/refine/test/refine until you get it as close to right as you can

Often if design only focuses on business requirements, it risks the possibility of not meeting users need, and possibly even being completely unusable. The bigger the budget and the higher the risk, the more imperative several iterations of design testing are.

Only when you've got to the point where business and user needs are in a reasonable balance, can you really put things together and build a beta or pre-launch version of the app. If possible you should still be testing pre-production prototypes with your users at this point.

All of the above is before the designed application goes live.

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Thanks. But the more I read the more I found: "Don't show your wireframes mockups to the user, because they are not accurate and lack details that COULD be important to user decisions." According to this, will high fidelity prototypes work here? And, if yes, how can I explain to the designers team that, some of their high fidelity layouts could be severely changed after the study? They will... at least... kill me for that. :) Thanks in advance, again. –  MEM Apr 10 '11 at 12:56
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I'm generally a proponent of not showing wireframes to clients but only because in my experience they are too abstract for most client, who want to see some level of interaction. Managing the client is important because they usually jump to solutions when you are first talking to them about requirements. Sorry to say it, but if your designers are not prepared to change their designs after they've been tested on users and clients, then they are too egotistical to be good designers. That's the whole point of testing them - change them if they're not meeting ALL needs enough. –  jameswanless Apr 10 '11 at 17:35
    
I will try to find a balance in between. ;) Thanks for your answer. After reading, I would add to your answer initial click tests (solo page click tests), and for collection information and organizing it, card sort and tree tests. (taxonomy). More can exist I suppose, but with those methods and the proper tools and skills, it should be enough. Thanks again –  MEM Apr 10 '11 at 23:19
    
I'm not sure what you're referring to by 'solo page click tests' and card sorts and taxonomy exercises are more for sites than apps. Usually, you're looking to categorize content with a card sort. Open card sorts are when you don't have a starting point and closed card sorts are when you are trying to verify an IA you have designed. –  jameswanless Apr 11 '11 at 4:59
    
Indeed. When I refer to web applications, I'm referring to web sites, the difference being, the method and processes that we use to build those sites. When we use testing, version control systems, and we allow a certain level of user interaction, we tend to call those sites: web applications. As "solo page clicks" - well, I created that name. :s Anyway in Usabilla (for example) we are focus on testing NOT the "findability" of something on a website, but something relevant on a web page. It has some advantages on a earlier phase.Thanks for the Open and Closed card sorts. Must read about all. :) –  MEM Apr 11 '11 at 10:46
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