The U P A voice
August 2004 Contents

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User-Centered Deliverables: Communicating the Right Things to the Right People

by Frederick Beecher,
Senior Information Architect, J. Walter Thompson

As usability professionals working on the Web, it is our responsibility to make sure our clients’ sites communicate effectively to their intended audience. We make recommendations about what information the audience needs, how they expect it to be presented and how they’ll need to work with it once they’ve got it. But how often do we consider our own audience, the people we need to make our recommendations happen? Does one set of documentation meet the needs of all members of an interdisciplinary team? Probably not.

At J. Walter Thompson, we have four main audiences for User-Experience (UXP) deliverables: Interactive Designers, Information Architects, Interactive Programmers, Developers, and Quality Assurance. Because they are interested in different aspects of the user’s experience and have different skills and ways of thinking, these audiences need different documentation.

Use Cases, for example, detail specific interactions that users can have with a system. In these documents, Business Analysts put the requirements they have specified into the context of user actions, with some input from Information Architects. They contain step-by-step textual descriptions of how the user accomplishes a task, lists of business rules that govern things like data handling, error handling, security, etc., and specific definitions of what form fields can contain.

Do Designers want this type of information? Not really. What about Interactive Programmers who build the user interface? Yes and no. They need something more specific because Use Cases are intentionally written in an interface-independent manner. Developers and Information Architects are the primary audiences for Use Cases. Developers need this detailed information so they can build the back end that manages and displays the data. Quality Assurance needs this information to develop their test scripts. Information Architects need this information to flesh out the details of exactly what the user will need to do to accomplish a task, and exactly how the system will display data to its users.

Navigation Diagrams and Wireframes are the expression of those details. These two deliverables are tightly integrated into one document that represents the complete user interaction for a given use case. The Navigation Diagram, displayed on the first page, is a visual representation of the interaction specified in the use case. It shows exactly how a user will accomplish the task and the pages required for them to do so. The Wireframes are a collection of page mockups that detail the layout and user interactions on each of these pages. Each page represented on the Navigation Diagram is keyed to a specific page in the Wireframes.

Developers are uninterested in this information. For them, it is redundant and far too specific. Designers are more interested in this information. The layout suggested on the Wireframes and the notes describing interactions such as dynamic menus, mouseover events, etc. inform their creative vision of the site.

Interactive Programmers, however, rely heavily on this document. Along with the Design Templates, they have all the information they need to create the user interface. The Navigation Diagram and Wireframes present this information in such a way as to anticipate the Interactive Programmers’ needs. For example, a Navigation Diagram might specify that on Wireframe 3a, the user enters data and clicks on a button labeled “Continue.” They look at Wireframe 3a and it contains a button labeled “Continue.” This prevents the Interactive Programmers from having to ask questions about the details, and it allows Information Architects to own important things like consistency between interactions, the display of error messages, and more.

Simply by applying our basic skills to our own communications with co-workers, we can do a great deal to smooth the project process and build solid Web sites for our clients. The effort is minimal, but the reward is great.

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