Usability and Concept Models


Sometimes the best way to initiate a usability project is by using Concept Models to frame the discussion, centralize a team around a common goal and present the optimized solution

Concept Models Help Sell Usability

I recently read an article from Dan Brown entitled “In Which a Concept Model Makes Me Giddy.” Dan has good reason to be giddy, concept models are an excellent way to cut through barriers and help explain the associations of concepts for a design project, and also can provide the same benefits for a usability project. I like the article, and it got me thinking about some additional aspects of using concept models with usability projects. Concept models can frame the discussion, centralize a team around a common goal and present the optimized solution.

How Concept Models Fit into the Design Process:

According to Dan, there are 3 key ways concept models can be applied during the design process, these include:

1. Concept models can describe the structure of a system.

2. Concept models can frame the design problem.

3. Concept models can help designers understand the domain.

To these, I would add one more, which is…

4. Concept models can centralize a team toward a common goal.

It’s said a picture is worth a thousands words, and by using a concept model to visualize the ultimate design, a team can focus on the end result. Nothing helps a team all march in the same direction better than a clear and simple vision of the end goal. This makes it much easier when trying to coordinate a diverse group toward a common usability goal. Concept models can be the glue that holds a team together.

Six Benefits of Concept Models:

Dan continues, and discusses 6 benefits of concept models that help with a design project. These 6 benefits of a concept model can directly be applied to a usability project as well.

1. Highlight buried aspects of a domain that are hidden or dwarfed by other aspects.

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2. Shift conversation away from one aspect of a solution, and help focus on bigger issues such as strategies or priorities.

3. Draw connections by coupling the concept model to a value proposition.

4. Uses active verbs to drive the conversation away from relationships (such as “does this belong here or there?”) and toward activity – how it will work.

5. Eliminate non-essential ideas that derail the concept or are a political agenda of a minority group in an organization.

6. Concept models can validate connections of concepts, or help demonstrate that the concept is not there.

According to Dan, concept models have a time and a place, and may not be useful for all situations or all audiences. As with any other tool we use to help communicate, concept models can be a powerful aid when considering domain impacts and associations early in the design phase.

Usability and Concept Models:

As I mentioned, concept models can frame the discussion, centralize a team around a common goal and present the optimized solution.

Framing the discussion early in a usability project is important if a clear end goal is to be created. I’ve seen many usability projects become tarnished or even fail because of differing goals of team members. Starting a usability project right by framing the discussion of what needs to be done with a concept model is good way to ensure all parties are focused. We all have to know where we’re going when starting a project, right?

Centralizing the usability team around the common goal by using concept models is also beneficial. If differing team members have differing goals, then the usability project is flawed from the start. It’s amazing how many usability projects are started without a clear and simple vision of what the end goal should be. Concept models can help visualize the end goal for the team.

Concept models can also help identify the optimized solution for a usability team. They are great talking points, and can be used to create several iterations of a customer experience that ultimately improves the usability while achieving business goals and customer satisfaction.

Concept Models: A Useful Usability Tool

The next time you have a usability project requiring a re-structuring of tasks and flows, consider using a concept model to demonstrate the current and optimized solution. By visualizing the experience with a concept model you’ll help enable your design and usability team to be more focused, and may ultimately find a better project, and solution, for the team.