We have a major component of our company focused on the design of software applications developed around the target end-user population. We deploy Human Systems Integration (HSI) team whose responsibility is collaborating with the client/customer and end-users/subject-matter experts (SMEs) to define personas, goals, activities/workflows, requirements, experience, and features. The HSI team translates these into system engineering artifacts (models, activity diagrams, mockups simple-to-complex, research and white-papers, etc.) and provides them as guidance to developers. The developers then code complexity into the back-end to keep the front-end/user-interface as user-friendly as possible. Our developers employ variety of additional practices to ensure usability (e.g. using common components users are familiar with, programming languages that are compatible across browsers and operating systems, allowing custom-CSS and providing alternative text for Section 508 compliance, testing for security, stability, and quality assurance, etc.). Throughout, the HSI team conducts user-testing and presenting to the client/customer to improve and evolve the design guidance while also conducting internal usability assessments to track usability compliance. Altogether, this integrated and collaborative approach ‘bakes-in’ usability so that upon delivery, end-users find an inviting and intuitive, but also familiar, user experience and web-application.
Ethnographic Research and HCD
We are proficient in Agile/Scrum project management and integration of HSI teams, Business Analysts and Product Owners for projects that have user-interfaces. These roles support creating designs, requirements, storyboards, conducting end-user research, presenting/documented external feedback, evaluating/testing development, assisting QA throughout the project lifecycle, and keeping the client/customer informed and educated about what we are doing and its value to end-users. Specifically for the ethnographic research and human-centered design, we have a variety of methods to employ based upon where we are in the project lifecycle, the project timeline/velocity, and availability of representative end-users (these will be expounded upon in our response to F) that are geared to understand the different types of users, their roles, permissions, goals, needs, dependencies, pain points with a prior or related system, level of experience with software, type of access (e.g. remote, computer, tablet, internal system, etc.), and limitations (e.g. color-blindness, protection of personally identifiable information known as PII, protection of proprietary information, hearing assistance, etc.) and what they need to be competitive/efficient in the future (e.g. features like dashboards, message boards, RSS feeds, information mining through natural language searching, neural networks to understand and accelerate activities, immersed training, etc.) through observing (in-person or remote), solicitation/elicitation of end-user feedback (web-sharing, surveys, etc.) and/or research (review help desk data, conduct domain research, review historical in-house analyses, etc.) and team alignment (the Agile/Scrum approach helps keep communication and collaboration consistent and frequent). Last, though not least, we would anticipate including the customer/client in periodic reviews throughout the lifecycle because we know things can change and we want to keep design/development constantly aligned to what the user’s need.
Dedicated Design Space
We have dedicated meeting spaces within the National Capital Region (Mclean, VA) as well as other nearby offices (Stafford , Blacksburg, and Charlotte VA) and the ability to visit client locations as desired to support direct collaboration. Additionally, we frequently use virtual-conferences to share visual and voice communications for recurring meetings, milestone reviews, user-testing, and most of our internal working meetings. Furthermore, we have a lot of familiarity in sharing data over sites such as SharePoint, Onedrive, and limited-access Federal/governmental repositories.
We use lightweight tools, such as PowerPoint and simple prototypes, to quickly get our ideas back to and vetted by client/customer and/or end-users/SMEs, as early as possible and frequently (at milestone reviews or, preferably more often, using the following to drive feedback and decision-making: block diagrams, personas, research into the existing system or related systems to bring out the best and mitigate the ineffective, decision assessment rubrics for technologies down-select, etc.). While the aforementioned is good for rapid-prototyping, easy sharing, and quick response, we also employ rapid usability-assessment techniques, such as gorilla-testing, remote usability mini-events targeted at particular design or workflow areas, standing up a secure private website for users to interact with and immediately share feedback, prototyping, short surveys, design reviews, and can share trend metrics as they evolve (such as periodic reports on changing compliance to Section 508, requirements satisfied/tested, user-responses to satisfaction as development matures, etc.). The intent is not to use all of the tools in our toolbox, but to tailor what we use to the time-frame, budget, availability of end-users, and desire of the customer/client to be engaged starting as early as possible. We know that humans are really good at saying what we don’t want, but not so good at explaining what we do want, so we use our tools to narrow initial assumptions down, typically in 2-week intervals (sprints) to keep a fast pace on development and improvements. Improvements can take many forms, but to name a few we focus heavily on are organization and progression of information, efficiency in task completion, clarity, meaningfulness, relevance, satisfaction, cognitive load reduction, consistency in look/feel/experience, responsiveness, appeal, and passive support (e.g. tooltips, feedback, immersive help). We know that a viable, value-added and adoptable solution across user types is needed and how to get there. <some mention of extreme programming and rapid-development technologies/processes needs to be added to this section).