User Centered Design Process: from Zero to UI and App Concept (Step 1)

First of all, my apologies for being absent for such a long time!
As some of you might know, a few weeks ago I finally had gotten my visa for Australia and right now I am already at the Urban Informatics Research Lab in Brisbane and am assiduously working on my project. :-)

The starting point for my project is an already existent app, called FixVegas, that the lab developed about a year ago.
Its purpose is to allow Brisbane citizens to snap a photo of something that needs to be fixed and submit it directly to the city council, which will take care of the issue. That explains the features pretty exhaustively already. There is no way of seeing city council feedback within the app or viewing what other people submitted.

The current idea is to use this necessity of people to have issues fixed as a hook, to get them into the app and try to persuade them to engage even more in shaping the city.

Since the whole project revolves around mobile development, I will keep you guys posted on my progress and giving some useful insights and lessons learnt. Today I will write about the first step: knowing who your user is/will be and what she wants.

Step 1: Know Thy User
The method I adopted for this app is the user centered design process. This means the user, his needs, expectations, goals and behaviors are the factors that ultimately shape your app. She’s the one you always think of at every stage of the development process.

At a very first stage, there’s a bunch of questions to start off from:

– Who are the users of your app?
– What are the users’ tasks and goals?
– What’s the easiest way my app can help them achieve these goals?
– What are the users’ experience levels with similar apps?
– What features do the users need from the app?
– What information might the users need, and in what form do they need it?
– How do users think the app should work?

Answering these questions is very easy if there’s other similar apps out there. Since eGovernment is a hot topic right now, first thing I did was to do some benchmarking. I looked at all the other apps – features, look, UI, user ratings and comments on the app store.
Luckily I also found a forum initiated by the Munich City Council, asking citizens what digital services they’d like for their city. The no. 1 topic requests a service like FixVegas for Munich. There’s quite a bunch of other interesting threads. Here people make a lot of great suggestions and you can find out what is really important for users – for instance getting feedback on your fix submission.
Third, I took a look at feedback we had received from withing the other FixVegas version.

So, browsing the internet can be a good point to start. If you can’t find anything, try interviewing people or talking about your idea to as many people as possible – think to ask people of different ages and from various backgrounds! This is a good opportunity to find out which segment finds your idea appealing and is likely to use it, but also if there’s needs specific to that segment.

Analyzing your competition, as mentioned earlier should be one of the first steps. While doing so, think about the aforementioned questions and be critical: does the app support users is accomplishing their task the fastest and easiest way possible? Is there a better way? What’s good about the app and what’s not? Does the app miss critical features? Does the User Interface look the way one would expect (is it in conformity with the design paradigms for that platform)?

Alright, the next post will continue with step 2, where I’ll show you some of my sketches and lo-fi screens I made in Photoshop :-)
For now I wish everyone a great day/evening/night!