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Applying User-Centered Design

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User-centered design works in all levels of your documents: document design, information design, and sentence design.

Document design

User-centered documents should be easy to navigate. User-centered documents contain a clear, usable table of contents, visible section headers and page numbers, informative headings, and a well-formatted index. In addition, user-centered documents should contain pages that use plenty of white space and that integrate text and visual elements together to convey ideas. These structural elements help users find and understand information quickly.

See the HATS Methodology Powerpoint presentation for more information on page design.

Information design

User-centered documents should be easy to understand. User-centered documents should move from general to specific information, beginning with abstracts or executive summaries and introductions that forecast and overview main ideas and conclusions. Informative headings and topic sentences will help readers understand what information is contained in the following text. Paragraphs should move from general to specific details.

Sentence design

User-centered documents should be easy to read. This does not mean dumbing down information, but rather, communicating with audience needs in mind. As a technical expert, you may not always be communicating with other experts. You may have to present ideas to decision makers outside your area of expertise. These decision makers must understand your complex ideas. So avoid using jargon and provide glossaries for technical terms.

In addition, user-centered documents should contain sentences based on the BLUF and SVO methodologies. You don't want to BLUF your audience, so place the Bottom Line Up Front. Authors should also organize sentences moving from Subject to Verb to Object. The following examples illustrate the difference between sentences that are difficult to read and sentences that incorporate the user-centered approach:

It was decided by the team, after the processor testing procedures, that the cause of the problem was not in the hardware, but in the user/application interface.

The sentence above is difficult to read because it uses a complex structure and because the point of the idea comes at the end.

After testing the processor, the team found that the user/application interface was the problem, not the hardware.

The sentence above is more user-centered because the main idea falls toward the beginning and because the sentence structure is less complex.

See Paramedic Method for more information on composing concise, user-centered sentences.