User Experience Design: Bringing a User-Centered Approach to DIGARC Solutions
by Natalie Auth, DIGARC Lead UX Designer/Developer
If you’ve spent any amount of time around computer software, smartphones or technology in the past decade, you’ve likely heard the terms UI and UX. People will say things like “Wow, this app has a really cool UI!”, or “I think the UX could be improved on this website.” But what do they mean? What is the UX? Is it the same thing as the UI?
User experience, or UX for short, is actually a very broad concept that encompasses everything about the interaction of a person (or user) with a product, and the product doesn’t even have to be software-related. This most obviously includes direct interaction between a person and a product, but it also involves the user’s first discovery of the product, when they need help with it, or even when they talk about it to other people.
Imagine the UX of a park bench, for example, and how you might be happy to find one in the middle of a long walk; how, once you sat on the bench, you wished it were in the shade; and then how you told a friend about the bench later. All of these things relate to your overall experience, or UX, with the bench.
User experience design, on the other hand, means something very specific in the software design and development world. We still refer to user experience design using the term UX, but we are really talking about a methodology of designing products and services in a human-centric way. We look at the specific tasks and objectives that a real person is trying to accomplish, and then we build software to meet those needs in an intuitive and efficient manner. UX design is a multi-disciplinary practice with roots in fields such as human-computer interaction, psychology, graphic design and more.
Then what about the UI? The UI refers to the user interface, including the overall look and feel of a product, as well as how interactions occur, and how a user goes about accomplishing the tasks they set out to do. The UI is definitely an important part of UX, but it is not the whole story. UX and UI are very much intertwined; an attractive UI definitely helps create a positive UX, while UX design helps inform how the UI should look and function.
UX Design and SECTION
Academic section scheduling is a critical process for all institutions, but for so many it’s a challenging, cumbersome task involving spreadsheets, emails and a lot of back-and-forth communications as adjustments are made. Instructors, rooms and related courses are just some of the resources that schedulers juggle during the process.
When DIGARC developed SECTION in 2018, we not only aimed to digitize and track the workflow of academic scheduling, but to give users additional tools to visualize all the moving pieces of the puzzle. We did more than simply recreating a manual process using software — we looked for opportunities to enhance users’ experiences by offering visual representations of meeting patterns, room and instructor availability, and more so users can compare the information they need and easily make the right choices in building their schedules.
SECTION was created using a user-centered approach focusing on the tasks and processes that were most critical to the people doing the actual work, and structuring the UI around those key components. We collaborated with our Client Development Partners to gather requirements and sample data, and then used this information to create prototypes of core functionality.
We used the prototypes to test features with clients and DIGARC staff to verify what we got right, as well as look for ways we could adjust the functionality to be more usable. The feedback we received was incredibly valuable and continues to make SECTION an even better product. Continual improvement of our products is one of our top priorities. The DIGARC Client Advisory Board assists us in establishing priorities and developing product roadmaps.