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the simple language of experience

The language of usability

When I first came across the wireframing tool Balsamiq I was blown away by how easy it was to use for a non-technical person. We bought a bunch of licenses and let various people experiment with creating their own wireframes. Some of these people were our business stakeholders. I know some people out there may be cringing now but this was incredibly valuable for us.

It demonstrated to the business that a lot more thought went into the design of the interfaces than they realised. It also engaged them like never before. The improvement suggestions became more considered and valuable. A clearer distinction was noticeable between business requirements and usability requirements. And ideas that came in had already been discussed among several real users.

For me it was the simplicity that made the difference. People could have simple discussions about UI elements without being technical. By trying to design their own UIs our stakeholders got a much deeper sense of how difficult it could be to get it right. Wireframes became the language of usability and it was a tool like Balsamiq that made it possible for non-experts to engage with this domain.

The language of experience

We were already using flow diagrams to help visualise and understand the wider user experience. We would look at different types of users and their goals. We’d look at the journey that a user might take to first discovering they had a need to fulfilling that need with the product. This is a fantastic way to discuss user experience, to come up with new ideas and share them with the team.

The problem we had was that the approach was inaccessible to those that weren’t trained in it. We were agreed that process was the language of experience but it wasn’t ‘simple’. The tools had to be driven by a small elite group that understood the approach and were skilled in using the tool.

To overcome this challenge we started with a simple approach, one that would be easily recognised, easy to understand and easy to use. You can find out more about the approach we chose here and how it works here. Anyone can use this method with Google drawings, Powerpoint or any tool that lets you draw boxes and lines.

The next thing was to create our own tool that did this and did it well. It’s got to be easy so that anyone can do it, the drag and drop interface makes it easy for any user to quickly create flows. The questions in the boxes remind you what you need to put in there and really drive your thoughts and discussion. We built in shortcuts so power users can literally capture flows at the speed of talking which makes it fantastic for larger group discussions.

And while the focus is on collaboration, and the discussion it generates, if it is to be a ‘simple language of experience’ people need to refer back to it. For that we made it possible to share flows online at the click of a button. We hope you enjoy using it!

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