Checklist: Understanding User Environments

Users do not operate in a vacuum. Here is a checklist for understanding the end-user ecology – the environments that influence the way the users interact with the system.

Factors for In-Depth Understanding of User Community and Environments

Inputs: User Task list, User Roles list, User Community Sketch

Identify typical user characteristics of each major user type:
o   Age range, gender
o   Education level
o   Occupation, full or part-time
o   Socioeconomic – income/finances, lifestyle
o   Cultural/ethnic background, languages spoken and proficiency
o   Geographic region, urban/suburban/rural
o   Domain knowledge or subject-matter expertise level
o   Experience using the current system and/or similar systems
o   Formal Training on the system, how much, how long ago
o   Objectives for the system – why are they personally using it?
o   Technology skill and comfort level
o   Overall concerns and attitudes toward the current system or competitors
o   Handicap accessibility needs – 508, low vision, color-blindness, assistive technologies
o   Prioritize: Which of these user characteristics are most important/influential?
o   Ask: Would the clients like to change any of these, to attract different users?

Identify the user environments for the main user tasks
o   Interruptions, time spent to return and resume
o   Work pattern – several times daily, once a month, once a year, abandon after start
o   Gateways to system – from Internet search, desktop icon, bookmarked start page, hyperlink or deep bookmark
o   Social context – supervisor approval? information from users outside the system?
o   Using at work, home, school, outdoors, leisure, combination?
o   Special environments – Classified, low-connectivity, battlefield, in-store
o   Access to other external systems – e.g., ability to check personal email
o   User control over environment – access restrictions, attitudes
o   Prioritize: Which of these environmental characteristics are most important/influential?

With all this information, the following requirements artifacts can be created.

Outputs:
o   Annotated User Role description
o   Annotated User Task requirements
o   Persona representing each major user group – User Profiles or Stereotypes
o   User Stories or Storyboards describing how user characteristics affect tasks

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