Information Systems
College of Business Administration
University of Missouri - St. Louis
The Effects of Practical Business Constraints on User Interface Design
by Debra Herschmann

Below are lessons learned as a designer working in a business environment.

Keep the ultimate product vision in sight and define base functionality which cannot be compromised. Learn to distinguish between features that are critical and shape the product's future direction from features that can dropped or added incrementally after release.

Create a detailed and explicit user interface functional specification, and maintain multiple versions as features are revised. On the RouteBuilder 3.0 project, documentation of all features was saved even after features were revised or eliminated. When features were resurrected, it was simple to provide developers with the necessary specifications. Such documents also provide ideas for future versions of the application.

Develop rapid and disposable prototypes, rather than time consuming code, which management may feel committed to use after expending resources. Prototype individual features until a complete product is available for testing. Simple behavior can be demonstrated quickly using third party applications such as Word and Excel, not usually associated with prototyping.

During the estimation process, beware of questions that start with "How much would you mind if.." and "How bad would it be if..."

Communicate design revisions with departments external to development affected by the changes. Overlooking this factor early in the RouteBuilder design revision process caused quality assurance to rewrite test scripts. Informing documentation, training, Q.A. and marketing of modifications in a timely manner helps avoid duplication of effort.

Track the user interface as it progresses through all phases of development. Test interim versions of the software. Discuss interface behavior with the developers implementing each feature. This helps avoid misinterpretation or oversights by managers and developers. It also allows clarification of details missing from the functional specification and resolution of design problems arising during implementation.

Most importantly, realize that a user interface designer, developing a product within practical constraints, after negotiation and compromise, is part of the creative process.

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