The Conversation

This is the dialog about how the story will manifest and what users care about. It is recorded as part of the story in a series of concise bullet points, with the goal of enriching the story.

The Confirmation

The confirmation element contains the business requirements for the "Testable" bit of the story. These are the tests required to confirm a story has been implemented correctly and completely.

Mittleman suggests the following format for a user story: 

  • Title
  • ID
  • Scenario (As X, I want to Y, so that Z)
  • Conditions of Satisfaction
  • Example scenario
  • Business Rules
  • Impacts on existing functions
  • Links to reference information
    • Specifications
    • UI mock-ups
    • Etc.
  • Test case outlines

And he points out that there are both low-tech (e.g., 3x5 cards) and high-tech (e.g., edistorm.com, WebSort, etc.) tools for building out user stories with your team.

5) Build Reference Points, Wisely

The road forward from user stories requires imagination and research. Some keys to this next phase says Mittleman, are looking at reference sites and studying competitors -- look for best practices, recurring patterns and looking for how similar problems have been solved. Try reverse engineering your competitors' user stories and the personas they target. 

Additional tips Mittleman shared include:

  • Test the users you want, not the users you have
  • Users give you conflicting feedback, take time to find the most broadly useful reality
  • Validate the problems you are solving actually exist
  • Prototype early
  • Plan through version two or three

6) Get Your Content Strategy Sorted

This phase begins the shift from problem seeking to design and is particularly important for Web CMS projects. CMS projects are heavily content centric and the information architecture and content strategy can have big implications on the platform selected for the project, says Mittleman.

Mittleman suggested that Card Sorting while not a simple topic (he spends 3-4 weeks of his course on the topic), is one of the best tools for teasing out the relevant content strategy details. He pointed us to Usability.gov for a solid overview of card sorting techniques. And to this post for a list of relevant tools.

Card sorting, says Mittleman, will give you a visual mind map of how your users think. This map will in turn inform your taxonomies, choice of site vocabulary, how menus are labeled, how elements are grouped and more.

Use this exercise to answer questions like:

  • Do users want to see information grouped by subject, process, business group or information type?
  • How similar or different are the needs of different personas?
  • How many potential categories of stuff are there? (often drives navigation design)
  • What should these groups be called?

7) Audit What You've Got

Next in the process is -- assuming you have an existing site -- a content audit. This process is meant to drive more conversation and tease out additional information about relationships in your content, understand access control and further relate user stories to your existing body of information. 

The content audit will also help you clean up the cruft, reevaluate ownership of content, understand and refine content processes, and understand all the various formats your content is in, why it's in these formats and if these format decisions are still valid and best serving to the user stories. 

The net result of a content audit, according to Mittleman, is:

  • An acute awareness of site priorities
  • An increased awareness of business or operational constraints
  • Surfacing of a common language
  • An acute sense of the scale of the project

8) Map Your Site

Sitemaps may seem like an antiquated idea given the dynamic nature of many sites, AJAX content, the endless scroll of sites like Pinterest, etc. But the sitemap exercise is still highly used and useful to the UX process, according to Mittleman. He recommends designing your sitemap offline and addressing the following points:

  • Menuing
  • Categories and sub-categories
  • Special pages outside the main content
  • Your tagging scheme
  • Module/widget assignments -- where in the site are these used, etc?
  • Address public/private parts of the site (e.g., by using color coding)

9) Build the Wire Frames

Using one of the many wire framing tools out there, start mocking up your site in a light-weight fashion. Don't make wire frames pretty, says Mittleman, that will only serve to distract you from possible failings. Using pencil and paper is not a bad idea!

Mittleman also urged the audience to review current heatmap research and pointed out via several examples how there is no standard way that users scan a screen.

10) Research Web / UX Design Patterns

This is an area of much research and evolution, says Mittleman. There is no best pattern, only a most appropriate one, considering your project context. He suggested the following resources as a starting point:

11) Test Early Designs & Refactor

Use real tests to validate your to-date analysis and findings.

Remember, Mittleman emphasized, you are not your user. You need to validate your logical design, you should test your new designs against your legacy system (if possible) and once through this phase and the related refactoring, only now are you ready to build something.

Title image copyright Dirk Ercken, courtesy of Shutterstock.