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Chapter One. Background > Interface Design in the Design Cycle

1-5. Interface Design in the Design Cycle

Project methodologies often fail to take full advantage of what is known about interface design. This omission can be the result of bringing in interface designers long after much of the opportunity for improving the quality of interaction between user and product has been lost. Designs are most flexible at their inception. If interface designers are consulted only after the software has been designed and the software tools chosen or when the software is nearly complete, the correct advice—namely, to start over—is unacceptable. The budget and most of the schedule have already been expended, and the option of throwing away much or all of the design and the completed code makes the project managers look bad. Even so, as recent a book on project management as the UML Toolkit (Eriksson and Magnus 1998) fails to recognize that the interface has to be part of the requirements analysis, which is Eriksson and Magnus's first phase of project development. Contrary to their suggestion, interface design cannot be postponed until the technical design phase (their third phase). Once the product's task is known, design the interface first; then implement to the interface design. This is an iterative process: The task definition will change as the interface is designed, and the implementation will be influenced by the task definition and the interative interface design as well. Flexibility on all fronts is needed. The place to start the implementation is to list exactly what the user will do to achieve his or her goals and how the system will respond to each user action.

Users do not care about what is inside the box, as long as the box does what they need done. What processor was used, whether the programming language was object oriented or multithreaded, or whether it was the proud possessor of some other popular buzzword does not count. What users want is convenience and results. But all that they see is the interface. As far as the customer is concerned, the interface is the product.


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