How to Get There from Here

It's one thing to say, "There's a better way." It's quite another to point out the direction. Cooper Interaction Design claims to have a map.

Its one thing to say, "Theres a better way." Its quite another to point out the direction. Cooper Interaction Design claims to have a map.

One of a new breed of design firms focused on making technology usable, the Palo Alto, Calif., company said the problem with hard-to-use technology is a failure by its creators to put users and their needs at the center of the design.

Interactive Week asked CID to come up with a product that illustrates how its trademarked Goal-Directed approach to design leads to a usable and successful product. The result is an application for a personal digital assistant (PDA) — called Wayfinder — that helps users find their way around an airport. Designers Ryan Olshavsky and Caroline Toland described the four-step process that went into creating the Wayfinder.

Step One: Whats the problem? You cant offer a solution, or fix something, unless you know whats broke. CID said its first step is to identify the problem. After researching a situation and talking to potential users, CIDs team then drafts a problem statement. For this exercise, the problem they identified was that air travelers often have trouble finding the services they need in airports. Since its not always obvious what services are available or how to get them, weary and irritated travelers can miss their flights.

Step Two: Whos the user? Looking for patterns — concerns and goals that people have in common — leads to the creation of fictional archetypal users CID calls "personas." The design team decided the primary persona for the Wayfinder would be Angela, a 31-year-old public relations consultant living in Los Angeles who has customers scattered along the West Coast. Because Angela has to travel to meet with them, her goals are to be on time for client meetings, to travel with as little hassle as possible and to never feel confused as she makes her way from client to client.

Step Three: How is the product used? CID creates plausible scenarios in which the user interacts with the product. For example, Angela has a 30-minute layover in an unfamiliar airport and she wants a cup of coffee before she takes off again. The Wayfinder automatically downloads an airport map and listing of services to her PDA via a wireless local network, using Bluetooth. Through a simple "Find" interface, Angela can locate her favorite coffee shop and see how long it would take her to walk there from her current location. The Wayfinder then displays a map, with landmarks, to guide her. With coffee in hand, she could then look up the gate for her connecting flight and follow Wayfinder directions to the plane.

Step Four: Whats the design? CID works through several scenarios and uses them to create a design that satisfies the personas goals. To meet Angelas goal of getting to meetings on time, Cooper built the Wayfinder interface around only two main screens. To help her travel with little hassle, Cooper included a complete service database with reliable directions and information. Lastly, to ensure Angela never feels at a loss no matter what airport she finds herself in, Cooper made sure the idioms of the Wayfinder interface would be consistent.

(For more details on how Cooper developed the Wayfinder, go to