Designing a Web App – Part 1 Research

Posted August 5th, 2010 in information architecture, user interface

4517916409 4478652a27 z Designing a Web App   Part 1 Research

My experience with designing and developing for the web so far has been brochure websites with or without a blog in some kind of content management system or not. However, after tackling the redesign of a company intranet, I recently joined up with a team to redesign the user interface and information architecture for a web app for emergency management. I was really excited about the challenge of this task since most of my UI and AI experience has been “the menu should be horizontal” or “let’s list the pages as home, services, about, blog, contact.” This meant really diving into the research part of the process that usually doesn’t take more than a few hours for the usual brochure site. To aid in my research I picked up a copy of A Practical Guide to Information Architecture by Donna Spencer, which has given me great advice to apply to this project.

Know Your Objectives

One of the first steps Donna Spencer points out in her book is make sure you know the objectives of the project before you get started. So after the first couple meetings, I decided to make a list of the primary objectives for our redesign:

  • Use the correct terminology
  • Make the design simpler and more focused on the user’s needs
  • Organize and simplify the menu and navigation
  • Add some workflow and automated processes to the architecture

Keeping a list of these steps made sure I had a goal in mind when doing the redesign. Also, having them written down meant I could go back to them later in the project to make sure I was still on the right path. If these objectives change throughout the project, which they may when we do some user testing, I can always go back and add to them or edit them.

The Importance of Taxonomy

So when I dove into researching for this web app, I looked at all sorts of resources pertaining to emergency management. According to FEMA, there was a whole glossary of terms for emergency management and processes to go along with it. It was my job to make sure our app incorporated the already established terminology and processes. When looking at the original app design, it turned out we were confusing some of the terms, which would have made things even more confusing for the users. This brings me to my next point.

Always Keep the User in Mind

This can be harder than it sounds especially when you’re designing an app that you wouldn’t normally use. I knew I wasn’t an expert on emergency management. That’s why the whole research process is a very important step I knew I couldn’t skip. So with my research did I not only find the terminology and processes but I also found specific roles and users with definitions – jackpot! Okay, this still doesn’t make me an expert, but it sure does bring me closer to understanding how these users will want interact with this app.

Coming up…Part 2 Wireframes

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About the author

Bexxie has been designing for the web for over 5 years specializing in pixel perfect designs, clean, semantic code and custom WordPress themes. She also enjoys producing music, doing yoga, eating noodles and playing with her dog Jack.

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