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Defining the Usability Problem

Before you can effectively design or test a website or application, you must define the problem you wish to solve. You may have the idea that you want to “modernize” an existing website. That is a start, yet “modern” does not clearly define the problem to solve. Defining what “modern” means to you will clarify the specific issues that your project will address. Modernizing may include adding a contact form to your site, instead of opening a user’s mail client, or it may mean changing the look and feel of a website or adding new interactive features to support user tasks. A re-design often requires an update to the website’s information architecture in order to accommodate the addition or removal of features.

To define the problem, consult with Stakeholders and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to better understand your intended audience, how people are currently using the site, and how they would like to use it. You might also conduct a Heuristic Evaluation of the site to learn where usability can be improved. Finally, changes to business goals may require subsequent changes to a website, such as the decision to sell products online.

Intended Use

Part of defining your problem space involves the understanding of what your users intend to use your website to accomplish. Intended use includes the tasks users wish to accomplish via your website, the places and environments where they will use your site, and other people and objects they will interact with in order to accomplish a goal that your website supports.

Establish the intended use of your website by determining the use cases, which are the most common tasks that users will perform on the website. When you understand where and how users will interact with your system, you can begin to develop a feature set for the website. For example, if you’re designing a website for a city’s public transportation system, some users may want the ability to look up bus schedules from a mobile device like a BlackBerry or iPhone. Developing a design solution for this use case requires consideration of the environmental factors and the characteristics of the mobile devices that will be used to access the site.

Use cases can be discovered by observing and interviewing users with respect to how they currently perform and would like to perform the tasks that your website will support.

Business Objectives

Business objectives are likely to come from decision makers like Marketing Professionals, Investors / Shareholders, Business Managers, CEOs, and feature requests from users. Business objectives help define the problem space by establishing high-level, organizational goals that uniquely define the business entity and consumer brand. These design boundaries should be kept in mind when brainstorming ideas for a website. If the suggested feature does not support or complement the business goals, it may actually hurt the long-term business plan. On the other hand, business goals should be founded on the intended uses for the website and fuse well with other project requirements, such as user experience and usability requirements. Otherwise, the business goals will not be appealing to the anticipated users to whom the site will be marketed.