Friday, November 2, 2012

The LoFi Approach

In the process of developing SaaS applications, we must always consider the end users experience. In fact, the user interface (UI) is the most important aspect when it comes to the usability of the application. Many times, we as programmers, are quick to think of the backend design of the application with little thought, in the initial planning phases, on the UI aspect of the design. 

The textbook "Engineering Long-Lasting Software" discusses behavior driven design (BDD) through the use of user stories. The concept is to design the application based on the users explanation of their processes and what they would like to see in the developed product. This process is implemented before and during development to reduce the chances of miscommunication. 

A critical element in the BDD process is to first identify what the customer expects to see in the application. In my personal experience, I have always done complex mock-ups and prototypes of software to present to the customer. These "prototypes" were always coded (in the simplest means possible). According to the text, this is overkill since: 

"Building software prototypes of UI can intimidate stakeholders from suggesting improvements to the UI. That is, software prototypes have just the opposite characteristics of what we need at this early point of the design."

Instead of these complex prototypes, we should take the "LoFi" approach. This approach involves paper-and-pencil mockup drawings of the UI. This approach is much less "permanent" and allows the customer to feel more comfortable with suggesting changes and modifying the application to meet their needs. In addition, this prevents programmers from wasting man-hours on developing prototypes that, in all likelihood, will be heavily modified or even discarded. 

This is a huge revelation for me as it is a practical approach toward developing a product. It's really a win-win situation for both the programmer as well as the customer. I'll definitely try to use this approach with my next project. That is, if my supervisors can get over their need to have everything "pretty and presentable". 

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the whole Lo-Fi thing is huge. Would love to hear about how it goes when you first present something like that to your supervisors. There are also entire separate courses on the Lo-Fi approach, and also some tools that can make your Lo-Fi look a bit more presentable, but I'll hold off showing those to you till you've tried the Lo-Fi method itself :-)