Case Study

Vectren: UX Roadmap

Project Initiation

Vectren, a large regional electric and gas utility, needed to re-develop their field technician’s applications. C/D/H was engaged to help in the design of a new service workflow application, as well as outline a process for incorporating a user-centric process throughout other areas of application development. By demonstrating and educating our client about how user research and validation can be continuous activities, we aimed to drive better product development into the future.

Strategic Drivers for User Experience

We worked with the business to outline key initiatives and objectives for this software prior to the user research phase.

  • Ease-of-use/Trainability
  • Consistency in design elements
  • Responsive/Modular grid layout
  • Visual system (Layout, UI patterns, iconography)

The key outcomes of this UX driver are to provide a more learnable, maintainable, and rapidly deployable framework for application development.

Safety - Observing behavior, system touch points, and work tasks of technicians influenced the user interface standards around safety. These concerns influenced a peripheral approach to navigation interactions and methods to support “low load” displays of data (Information Architecture). The application of this standard is later described in this document with the focus on memorable system touch points, iconography for quick reference, and non-obstructive interactions to preserve the visibility of the central portions of the application screens.

Modularity - Establish “UX Book of Knowledge” for Vectren application development patterns going forward. Provide a base set of tools to approach developing other applications and define a process of conducting research that’s inclusive to end users. This driver is addressed by outlining UX in relation to development patterns, user metrics, and research process defined later in this roadmap.

Solution - The Responsive Grid

Key Principles

The core of our visual design recommendations hinge upon providing a consistently easy to use user interface that adapts to various display resolutions and device form factors.

Designing the Experience

User research is an on-going and critical exercise in the design process, so it’s worth putting a little extra consideration into the way people will be using different devices. Understanding how these different users may want to use the application on a variety of devices will help define priorities on an application.

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In the course of our initial research with field technicians we discovered that their work and interaction preferences warranted an approach that would allow them to access with the peripheral regions of the screen to gain unobstructed views of the information. Currently because of system performance issues and antiquated resistive touch screens, most technicians don’t often interact with the screen. Our approach was to highlight key functions, locate them in the periphery of the screen, and emphasize them based upon the current task/phase. The button size and use of iconography will provide a more touchable interface and function better with resistive displays.

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In the above example it important to note that standard localities for key functions also give the technicians the ability to memorize the interaction point with the machine itself. This keeps the content in view and reduces the amount effort involved with searching for buttons options as they change for a particular task.

Applied to other Form Factors

Although these adaptations don’t depict real-world applications – it’s important to demonstrate how the grid and visual system apply to multiple form factors. The same principles are in use and the same visual system is used to achieve these adaptations. Key interactions are regionalized within the viewable space. The goal of this approach is to allow users to easily learn and be operational with the system on different form factors.

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The above examples demonstrate the same information refactored for different device proportions. It is the intent of the visual system (style guide) to provide common operations with similar interaction styles on varying platforms and devices.

The following examples illustrate some possible applications of the visual system using more complete screen layouts that are adapted for common devices.

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UX Development Process

Below are two approaches to the user experience role within projects. In general terms – user research and requirements analysis should remain separate until the prototyping phase of projects. This method will aid in the development of a UX Book of Knowledge for Vectren. The reports, diagramming, analytics, and process improvements that can be taken from each development cycle and can better inform decisions and planning enhancements. Archiving the more “raw” user research activities such as interviews, focus group notes, Etc. are useful as well.

Building usability into a system requires more than knowledge of what is good. It requires more than an empirical method for discovering problems and solutions. It requires more than support from upper management and an openness on the part of developers. It even requires more than money and time. Building usability into a product requires an explicit engineering process. That engineering process is not logically different than any other engineering process. It involves empirical definition, specification of levels to be achieved, appropriate methods, early delivery of a functional system, and the willingness to change that system. Together these principles convert usability from a 'last minute add on' to an integral part of product development. Only when usability engineering is as much part of software development as scheduling can we expect to regularly produce products in which usability is more than an advertising claim."

Dennis Wixon and John Whiteside

 

Process Recommendations - The Role of UX

User Experience Methodology - New Development

Phase Activities Artifacts/Deliverables
Research Field Research/Ethnography - Observational study of users and tasks within their work environment. Alignment Diagramming:
Process diagram placing the line of interaction above the business processes and technical requirements. A tool for understanding business and user requirements in order to prioritize features and functionality. (Story Points In SCRUM/Agile)
Testing Requirements workshop activities:
Interaction Design -
Measure intuitiveness of common tasks.
Prototyping
  • Develop key functionality and information architecture into interactive prototype
  • Gather user feedback and performance analytics
Design/Build (UI) Follow-up to requiprements. Perform user validation of information architecture and usability testing of interface.

Plan Implementation
UI Design/Build
Application of design patterns to interface.

Metrics Plan
Build usability and performance metrics to system.

 

User Experience Methodology - Ongoing

Phase Activities Artifacts/Deliverables
Discovery Review of current applications and enhancement schedule. User Requirements tracking / requirements matrix by role and work type.
Analyze Perform process and user metric audit via application metrics Report
Recommendations and user impact analysis for deployment.
Strategic Mapping Requiprements drafting
Track user requirements as separate activities.
Activities:
  • Efficacy Analysis - report of user study and artifacts from user testing
  • Establish usability testing regimen
  • Test enhancements on sample users

 

Summary

Well executed UX is a key success factor, it is better to view UX improvements in the same light as you view application development and maintenance. Establishing a UX Book of Knowledge through capturing behavioral user data, maintaining a consistent user interface language and layout, and preserving a regionalized and safe viewing/action areas on the technician’s screen area are key to future application success.

 

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