Design context: the users
One way of thinking about users is in terms of their innate capabilities.
- Physical capabilities: do the users require certain levels of dexterity in their hands or limbs to operate the product, or do they require force to make it work? Are there any other physical capabilities that we should keep in mind?
- Sensory capabilities: how well can the users perceive input to their senses? Are the users likely to have good vision? Are they likely to require the use of glasses? Is their hearing OK and is the sense of hearing an important part of being able to interact with the product? What about the other senses – such as touch? Or smell?
- Cognitive capabilities: are the users able to process the level of information required by the device? How can they use information gained through their senses to help them make decisions? Will it take them long to learn something? How are they likely to respond emotionally?
In the example of Jane and Craig, we note that both have relatively good vision and hearing, but that Jane requires reading glasses in order to interpret finer print on small displays. Their hearing seems good enough to be able to hear audio feedback on their running results, but both reject the use of earphones for different reasons. Neither of the runners seems to struggle with processing the data about their runs, as there is no mention of trouble in interpreting the calculations and stats about their timings and speed. However, both do appear to struggle, from time to time, to use the controls on the interface, either through not seeing information properly or from their fingers slipping on the touchscreen.
But there is more to users than their innate capabilities: their background and experience also shape their engagement with the world. They may have special skills or knowledge that are relevant to the activity – or they may have none, so they may need additional support. As a result of their background and experience, as well as their capabilities, they may have developed preferences that colour their user experience, making them more accepting of an interface that fits, for example, with their aesthetic or functional preferences but less accepting of one that does not. Their experience with particular activities or technology may give them a useful familiarity or special insight, perhaps making it easier to adopt certain features of an interactive product.
In our examples, Craig has more experience in using technology for sports and uses several devices, whereas Jane is less experienced and sport is described as a new thing for her. Craig sometimes uses advanced features on the app. Both find the interaction to be problematic during a run; they both want simpler ‘start’ and ‘stop’ controls. Both prefer to run without earphones, but Craig still likes the audio feedback about his activity and manages to process both conversation with other runners and audio updates, whereas Jane finds audio distracting and prefers to focus on her environment. Both have competing preferences (wanting feedback but no earphones); it is often the case that users’ desires and needs are in conflict, so that the designer must make trade-offs. Both Jane and Craig want to know how they’re doing in comparison to others, but, whereas Craig is happy to share his data, Jane has a stronger sense of privacy. The users’ characteristics affect both the usability of the app and their experience of it.