Design-centric Application Development

December 6th, 2016 by Kaveh Saket

Design-centric application development

A design-centric approach to application development (that’s web applications and mobile applications – is there any other sort these days??) differs from customer-centric or technology-centric approaches which have been more common of recent years. A design-centric approach focuses primarily on ensuring that the user experience is perfect – or perhaps more accurately “nearly perfect”.

There is always room for improvement – another revision, a new update – and users want continual improvement to make their life easier. User experience has been made king because research shows that organisations which focus on design significantly outperform those who don’t.

In a customer-centric approach the customer is asked what they want, and then the designer will set about delivering to their requirements. In a technology-driven approach, the technologists build the best algorithm or new solution to solve a particular problem and then look for a customer who values the technical solution. However, following a design-centric approach the designer will research the best current solutions in the problem landscape, put themselves in the customer’s shoes, and determine to provide the simplest way to achieve the desired goals. Gathering feedback on the design from a variety of potential users of different levels of expertise follows, and leads to iterative refinement until the first version is achieved. The developers – the people who turn the design into reality – are then directed by the design team to ensure that the intended outcome is achieved.

The Uber mobile app is a great example of design-centric application development, which is a significant factor in its amazing success. Anyone who has used the Uber App will agree – from being able to see where the on-approach vehicle is on the map, along with the number of minutes until it arrives continuously updated until arrival, to seeing a photo of the driver and vehicle, one press to make a call to the driver, and immediate payment upon arriving at the destination without needing to handover a credit card. I could go on and on about the ease with which you can hail an Uber, and receive a brilliant experience of private transport…

One of the challenges of current application design is dealing with content. Having little visible content is a very quick way to send users heading for the hills … imagine Instagram with no photos when you launch it, or Twitter with no tweets to read, or Facebook with no posts. However, masses of content with no simple way to navigate it, can be just as off-putting. Requiring a user to search has been the standard approach for many years. Filtering and other ways of helping the visitor to easily drill down to the content they are most interested in, have developed more recently.

At Contact Point we have been embracing SCRUM methodology across our organisation, which also readily supports a design-centric approach. Starting with our client’s goals and objectives within their particular competitive landscape, and their customers’ wants and needs, we will:

  • undertake research into common solutions to the design problem at hand,
  • brainstorm other potential approaches with trusted and experienced colleagues,
  • wire frame the potential solution, getting feedback along the way,
  • apply creative design to the wire framed solution,
  • carry out user testing of the design, iterating as necessary to refine the solution, and
  • finally develop the solution, taking care to ensure that the essence of the planned user interaction is achieved

The above steps will be undertaken for each logical entity that collectively forms the solution, at the same time ensuring consistency throughout the solution as appropriate. After the development of each component, real user testing of people across a broad range of skill levels, will then lead to further refinement. Programmatic A/B testing will allow two or more potential solutions to be tested head to head to ensure the best solution evolves.

The successful execution of a design-centric approach involves many steps, and requires an appetite for iteration, well beyond the launch of a new solution. However, the results are impressive, and for all but the simplest of tasks, likely the only way to achieve raving fans of your solution. Design-centric doesn’t mean that the customer is ignored. In fact the opposite is true with a greater focus on experience combined with needs and wants. Neither is technology ignored – utilizing the most up to date and elegant technology is also paramount to ensuring a great user experience.

What is the best user interface you have experienced from a web or mobile application?

 

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