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User Centered Design: The New Way to Design A Mobile App

So, you want to create a mobile app to help mobilize your enterprise? The goal is to make apps that are more efficient, more delightful, and more user friendly. This will increase user adoption while reducing development, training, and maintenance costs.

How do you meet all of these criteria? The User-Centered Design (UCD) approach is one of the easiest and most creative ways to go about creating a great app. By following this design approach here at MicroStrategy, we are able to conceptualize and sort through new ideas quickly — before ever touching a computer.

UCD focuses on users from the first step, ensuring that users like and are comfortable with the product from the very beginning. While you are going through this process, it is important to include designers, developers, potential users and anyone else who has a stake in the application. There are many UCD variations, but we are going to focus on the five-step process provided by the Stanford Design School. Once you have gone through the five steps, you will have a better idea about how to create an app everyone will love.

  • Empathize: When designing an app, the problems you are solving are not your own, and so you need to understand the problem. Empathizing with your user is the easiest way to accomplish this. Define your users and ask yourself what they think, feel and do. Get an idea of their problems, their expectations, their goals and their struggles. Ask users to write down problems with their current software. From there, you can start to see trends in complaints from users and anyone else in your group.
  • Define: Once you have defined your users and their struggles, you need to define the purpose of your app and identify the key issues that it will solve. The best test is to write out the purpose of your app. From there, continue to define why you are making the app (not the how). You need to define your data needs and decide what devices your users will be using and where. Don’t look to build an app that is everything to everyone. Do as few things as possible to fit your core set of users and do them well. Once you have defined your users and the devices they will be using, create a user profile and figure out what his or her typical day looks like.
  • Ideate: Once you have defined your users, devices and other factors, you can begin structuring your app content and workflow. In this phase, generate a lot of ideas. Not all of them will be used, but when defining workflow and design, it is important to have a long brainstorming process. When you know what data you’re including in the app, you need to consider how it can be split up into different documents or panels. Define what kind of structure will you use for navigation among all these different parts.
  • Prototype: Once you have a basic idea about the workflow, it is time to prototype. A prototype is an early sample or model built to test a process and concept. It is meant to be replicated and learned from. During the prototype stage, you want to keep it as low-fidelity as possible (at first). Think whiteboards, paper and pencil, or even use wire framing tools available online like Balsamiq. Start with whiteboard drawings and move onto wireframes and mockups.
  • Test: After you have a mockup, it is time to test the app before development begins. This is the best time to gather feedback from your users and see if their goals have been met and see what can be improved. While some of this can simply be done by asking questions, the most critical part of the feedback comes from how users interact with the prototype. Can they accomplish their tasks? Can they easily navigate through the app and find what they are looking for?  The best way to perform this type of user testing is to just hand control over to users and have them speak out loudly about their thoughts and decisions as they move through the app.

Once you have gone through the UCD process, you will have a better idea about what type of app you are making, and you will be ready to start developing!

Want to learn more? Download our Platform Approach to Mobile Apps iBook here.

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