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Published 31 Oct 2014

Principles for Designing Systems for Expert Users

By Natalia Rozycka

Designing for expert users is a lot different for novice or intermediate users and therefore call for different approaches. These principles are from Natalia Rozycka's talk during UX Open 2014 in Stockholm.

Source: Designing systems for expert users on Google Docs

  1. Understand the domain

    Applications for experts are complicated. Schedule extra time for learning what it is all about, it is going to pay off later.

  2. User research

    It's pretty obvious for everyone that usability needs to be tested. In the case of designing application for experts it's even more important to do the initial user research.

  3. Recognize your user group

    Speak to stakeholders and take advantage of logs to find out what are the important user groups. The usual dimensions dividing your user groups are: frequency of use, role, position and geography. Make sure you have representants of all user groups in initial interviews.

  4. Become a Padawan*

    Before the actual interviews, find a superuser that you can contact frequently. If it’s a redesign - ask that person to teach you the system. If it’s a new app - let them teach you the process, just as if you were supposed to take over his/her duties. Dare to ask stupid questions.

  5. Master contextual inquiry

    For new systems start with shadowing & in-depth interviews. For systems redesign start with usability tests & in-depth interviews. Take your time to synthesize and document the information (e.g. as mental models)

  6. Undust Jacob Nielsens Usability Heuristics

    • Recognition over recall. From interviews you should already understand which information users remember by heart or calculate on the fly (some IDs, standard abbreviations) and which not (e.g. barcodes, usernames). Give suggestions for the things users don’t remember.
    • User control & freedom. Allow the user to edit or reverse almost everything. Expert users know what they are doing, don’t irritate them with access rights or irreversible workflows.
    • Flexibility and efficiency of use. Limit time-stealing actions.
  7. Don't be dogmatic

    Don’t be dogmatic, especially about layouts. Listen to the reasons WHY users want weird solutions and just run usability tests often.

  8. Limit users interactions with others

    Interactions with other people is one of the biggest inefficiencies in experts’ daily jobs. Clarifying things with others seems to be eating a lot of mental energy. Make sure initial input form collects the data precisely enough or embed commenting and notification features.

  9. Be creative with devices

    Costs of devices are sometimes low compared to the gains such as improved data quality or more efficient interface. Think about bigger screens, mobile or connected devices.

  10. Remember that IQ ≠ computer literacy

    Expert users can really suck at computers. Keep the interface as simple as possible and use well-known design patterns.

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