Sunday, December 2, 2007

Designing Banking Application

Internet banking in India as well globally is gaining faster acceptance. An estimated 4.6 million users transfer funds online and this number (includes mobile banking figures), according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India, is expected to increase to 16 million by 2007-08.

There are some basic principles while designing a banking website or an internet banking application (though there are few more rules when it comes to designing an ‘online banking’ application). I have listed some of my learnings below, (which I had while I was working on a banking website for a reputed multinational bank in India, as well as its internet banking application interface also).

Following are some basic rules / principles which you should understand & put into practice while designing websites specially for banking domain.

  • Know everything possible about ‘end-user’:
    Before you start on anything, you should know about the end user; all the demographics like who? Why they are here? What they want to do with this website. All this information will help you to structure your website / application in accordance to it, in terms of information design, content structuring, content prioritization, visual design & much more; which will lead to a usable website for the target users, being a site based & focused to their needs.

  • Good ‘aesthetic’ design:
    Designing a banking website is slightly a difficult task, as you have to balance the website design from being too much corporate as well as being too loud or casual.Users coming here are not looking for ‘fun’ stuff but want to perform a specific task & has not time to go through lot of content or don’t want to loose himself in the design itself. So, the banking website design has to be very balanced & powerful enough to do the bank’s branding as well.

  • Content Relativity:
    Users come to banking websites to get some ‘specific’ information or to do some ‘transaction’. Unfortunately, many banks assumes their websites as a sales & promotion way, in which, they load up their websites with such not-crucial content. Most importantly, as banking users likes facts about the banks such as interest rates, service charges, etc., that content should get a highlight on the homepage also. Also, content related to quick access, bank tools, support information should get prominence.

  • Easy to use:
    Banking sites are supposed to be “easy to access” because end-users coming to such sites are there with specific intentions & may not have much time to spend. Don’t make a user learn your website. Make it easy & lucid enough that all the critical components & facts related to showed upfront & are easily accessible.

    For example, you can use a ‘quick access menu’ so that he can access all the core sections of the website at a single click & is available on every page. Also, usage of “breadcrumbs” & consistent navigation zone as well as “login” space will make it easy for the site user, along with ‘links which are easy to understand being underlined’.

  • Most important thing – Security:
    Online banking users are ‘very’ conscious about the “security”. They need to feel secure while using a banking website, by making the user ‘feel secure’ by placing ‘security information, alerts about the encrypted sections, and fraudulent e-mails about banks, etc. Information such as “128 bit SSL security” & such information should be visible clearly making a user relax about the transaction security as well as while submitting any kind information over the internet.

    For example, while logging in to an internet banking application, a user can be provided with a graphical keypad which changes its character placement on each refresh of the page, which avoids the keyboard usage & makes it difficult to track by the hackers online.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Why 'Usability' is so important?

We are living in a virtual world where there are millions of websites offering different kinds of applications / products & information services featuring business, education, entertainment, community sites & much more than one can think of. These several websites offering almost same kinds of services, etc. are making it more difficult to survive in such a complex business scenario.

Being very competitive market, one needs a solid product / services strategy & business model. But, one also needs good "usability" strategies & practices to make his/her website better than others, to make users keep coming back to the website; as there are several other sites which offers almost same kind of content / services.

Several studies & research of user behavior have clearly shown that users are impatient & have really low level of tolerance for difficult or sluggish websites, which takes more than required time. Being with such intolerant approaches, users are not willing to come back to sites which have very poor usability features. If they don't get what they want quickly, they will stop coming to your website in the future.

These bad usability elements of a website leads to time wastage, productivity losses, frustrated user base who are hardly willing to come back to this "non-usable" website; which automatically leads to different kinds of losses being an unsuccessful web application that fails to attract users or to serve the target audience of the website or application.

As against this, websites or application which makes a users life easy by allowing him to get what he wants in minimum clicks or in a hassle free way, developed using good usability strategies & practices always makes a user happy & attracts him to the website or to use the application. This loyalty increases the value of the website or the application, which gives good returns being a valuable website or application for its loyal users. Usage of Usability methods in the website or application development helps you to develop the best of the breed 'usable' application.

Usability is an "investment". You should invest into Usability irrespective of whether it is a new website development or a revamp of an existing website, as the money invested in Usability always pays off, as it saves lot of learning time for your target user base as your application is developed keeping the end-user at the core of all the development & have "usability" to develop the application at its best.

For example, IBM estimates that every dollar spent on the Usability will return $ 10 to $ 100.

Isn't it worth investing in Usability, which wins users, their satisfaction by making you "out-of-the-crowd" website with loyal customer base / users as well as business goals also?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What's User-Centered Design?

"User Centered Design" (UCD) is an approach used in the project, where the end-user or target audience is at the center of the design & development of an application or product development.

This approach makes sure that all the design & development is done based on the end-user inputs, their requirement & feedbacks taken into account while researching, using either of the popular user-centered design methods ; to make sure that the application-in-the-make meets all or maximum possible expectations of the end-user from the respective product / application intended at the specific target user group.

ISO 13407:1999 - a section for Human-centered design processes for interactive systems, specifies the steps for an ideal UCD process which actually begins at the very early stage of the project / product design & development. This stages are inter-dependent & their usage in the actual practice varies based on the project it applies to, as well as the amount of efforts that has been put in.

These steps can be briefed as follows:
  • Understand and specify the context of use

  • Specify the user and organizational requirements

  • Produce product design / solutions

  • Evaluate designs against requirements

This also can be explained with the help of below-given graphics:

If this product design meets the user requirements, this leads to the final product development.

We will discuss more about the "User-centered design" in the part 2 of this article.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Web Application UIs for Desktop / Mobile

As the "web" is moving very fast to mobile devices following the new-age mobile devices revolution which is enabling users to access websites & rich media content on their devices very easily making us re-think about the user interface designing & accessibility strategies from different perspectives when compared the conventional desktop-based web access.

As I always , the "end-user" is always at the core of all the development that happens on and off the web, the fundamental of any such product or application development is to create a product that's easily accessible & usable to him / her. But, being developers, the responsibility increases when it comes to 'mobile web applications' & the strategies changes from the conventional ones.

Unlike desktops, mobile phones are not powered by high-end processors, RAM or even storage capacity (as in most cases); which makes them far less capable when compared to desktop computers. And, this is where the need of the sensible web application design comes in to the picture at a critical level.

As mobile application UI designers / developers, one 'really' needs to understand the requirements of the end-users. An application which is going to be specifically for mobile devices needs to keep lot things like "display & such hardware capability limits, bandwidth / data usage limits & cost constraints & user demographics". The typical desktop-based web application user interface (UI) approach can NOT be fully applied for mobile-specific web application development. The below given image explains the same, about how both of them have different UI approaches:

Unlike desktop-based web application development where an UI uses 'horizontal' approach & splits into several areas like header, footer, left navigation, right navigation, etc. ; though the mobile application interface has only vertical approach as the ideal one & is not recommended to use a horizontal split approach until the application is targeted at a specific user segment with a specific device which is known to developers about it's capabilities, like hardware configurations; i.e. screen / display sizes, RAM, etc. In the absence of such information or business scenario, such split approach in UI development for mobile application is not fruitful & rather may land up the application in trouble.

I will add some more thoughts on this in my next article, where I will post some of my learning from my experience as well from others also.

What's 'Accessibility'?

Accessibility, here in respect to "web" as a medium, has crucial role to play when offering information / content / multi-media content to end-users of all kinds.

"Web Accessibility " can be described as "a practice of creating usable websites for people with all kinds of abilities and 'disabilities'. When websites are created with all such aspects where the core concern is the end-user, the site can be made more better. This includes several aspects like 'usability, user experience (UX) & accessibility.

How a site can be made to get considered as "accessible"?

  • A website can be made accessible if the site is completely coded with sensible HTML where are the images have proper, descriptive 'alt' tags which, in case blind people, reads out the content with "text-to-speech" softwares or text-to-Braille applications built to aid them to understand the content available on the respective site.

  • If the website has the capability of increasing the font-size or are made flexible enough to increase or decrease the font size using built-in capabilities of a browser, it helps people with poor sight to read the content they need.

  • Also, if the website has all the links in colors (as most of them are using CSS nowadays) as well as 'underlined'; they can be quite easily understood by the people who are 'color-blind'; where these links can be seen very easily being 'underlined'.

  • If a website is defined as accessible when they are designed in such as fashion that they can be easily accessed by the disabled user, using only a single device like 'keyboard' or even a 'single switch device' which is designed for an person who can not use even a keyboard or mouse.

Some basic guidelines from W3C website will take you quickly through this "to-dos" to build an accessible 'website'. (ref: )

  1. Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content.
  2. Don't rely on color alone.
  3. Use markup and style sheets and do so properly.
  4. Clarify natural language usage
  5. Create tables that transform gracefully.
  6. Ensure that pages featuring new technologies transform gracefully.
  7. Ensure user control of time-sensitive content changes.
  8. Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces.
  9. Design for device-independence.
  10. Use interim solutions.
  11. Use W3C technologies and guidelines.
  12. Provide context and orientation information.
  13. Provide clear navigation mechanisms.
  14. Ensure that documents are clear and simple.

You can go through "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (" to get more insight on the same.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What's user experience (UX)?

"User Experience" (often abbreviated as UX) is another core element of all the product development that happens on the web or mobile & other day-to-day life applications / product where the goal is to "satisfy the end-user's needs at its best level attainable".

User Experience (UX here onwards) includes all the aspects of the end-user's interaction with any products / services. UX can be briefly described as the "overall experience a user has when using a particular product / application or any system. UX is a subset of "experience design" which is related to architecture and interaction models which impacts a particular system's or product's end-user.

To create a best user experience, designers or developers should keep the end-user at the core of its product development & should make sure the product or system has the features easily accessible which the end-users are looking for, without any fuss & system meets the user goals & needs effectively.

An effective user experience strategy has many advantages, including the few ones mentioned below:
  • Easy to access applications/ systems
  • Due to exclusion of unnecessary functionality, exact user needs are understood & addressed.
  • Overall usability of the product or application increases dynamically.
  • Integration of business goals effectively as end-users needs are managed well.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ensure Usability at every stage!

The best way to get good usability & user experience in the product development, whether it's for web or for mobile or even hardware development, is to "keep the user at the core across the whole product development life-cycle".

As the end-user is the heart of all the development any company do, it needs to consider the uncompromisable role of the user in whose hand that product is going to land ultimately. So, ranging from Conceptualization / Ideation phase, till the continuous improvement phase (post product launch), one has to continuously interact with the end-users & need to understand their requirements to develop the best "usable" product.

The above image shows that all the stages of the product development should ensure that usability factor is kept at its heart.

To ensure better user experiences, make sure that the end-user is kept at the center of all the design / development that's happening & such end users are tested as well preferably; so that we get more realistic feedbacks & can improve the product at its best.

Usability and User Experience

Usability refers to the product’s ability to fulfill target user’s goals and needs with effectiveness and efficiency in a specified context of use (ISO 9241-11). Usability is not only a property of the product itself: usability is a property of the entire system, which includes the product, the user, the user’s goals and the context of use. In the mobile environment, the changing context of use sets a demanding challenge for the development. In addition, the device limitations, such as input mechanisms and display size, make application development harder than in the PC world.

User experience (UE) aims for a more holistic view in which usability can be seen as a part of the user experience. UE emphasizes emotional aspects, such as the desirability, usage flow and impressiveness of the product. The ability to create a positive emotional impact on the user is a key factor in differentiating the product from the competition.

Investing in usability and UE work results in savings in overall application development costs. When the development is based on verified user needs and requirements, the development work can be prioritized and focused in the most important product features. Unnecessary work and re-work can be minimized. Satisfied customers boost the positive brand image and create customer loyalty.

(Article from Nokia Forum. Copyright with Nokia.) URL:

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Usability! What's this? (Part -2)

Nowadays, there are various product / applications in the market which makes the market competitive in various terms, including "usability" of the product. This ever-increasing competitiveness makes markets saturated & the need for best-of-the-breed products in terms of usability are required to developed.

These products needs to be more of "user-centered" than being "technology-oriented". An 'Usability' expert analyzes the interaction between the end user and the application or product developed. After carefully observing them, an "Usability expert" may find the functional or design flaws in the process by which the product or application is developed. Being an Usability person, one has to always keep in mind that the product has been designed / developed by keeping the end user in mind.

Also, 'usability testing' and 'usability engineering' are both different things. "Usability Testing" measures the ease of use of a given software / application or product. But, "Usability Engineering (UE)" is a scientific way of research & develop the processes which ensures the product / application developed is compliant to most usability parameters.

In the coming article, I will post some more stuff on "Usability".

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Usability! What's this? (Part -1)

How do we say that "this" particular thing is very "easy to use"? This ease of use can be defined loosely as the "usability" of that particular thing, which can a be a tool or any other human-made object which helps us in achieving a goal.

Especially in HCI (Human Computer Interaction) and CS (Computer Science), this term "Usability" generally refers to the "ease of use, clarity & elegance" of the particular software or website developed. In non-IT aspects, it can be even the efficient design of any mechanical objects such as door handle or any tool that we use in our home.

ISO standard:

The document ISO 9126 (1991) Software Engineering Product Quality, issued by the International Organization for Standardization, defines usability as:
"A set of attributes that bear on the effort needed for use, and on the individual assessment of such use, by a stated or implied set of users."

The document ISO 9241-11 (1998) Guidance on Usability, also issued by the International Organization for Standardization, defines usability as:
"The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use. "

[ ISO Standard Reference: ]

We will learn more about usability in the 2nd part of this article.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A starter on I.A.

Let's have a brief introduction to Information Architecture (IA).

As Information Architecture Institute defines Information Architecture (abbreviated as IA), Information Architecture is:
  • The structural design of shared information environments.
  • The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.
  • An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.
Below given are some resources for the same:

The Information Architecture Institute
Information Architecture Summit
World Wide Web Consortium

More information on IA to be here in the coming days. So keep visiting & please post your feedbacks / suggestions.

Welcome to UsableArchitecture!

You are invited to my blog-space where I am going to contribute some information about "Information Architecture, Usability, User Experience" & more things alike.

I would like to receive your feedback / suggestions , even corrections if I am wrong anywhere as you feel. Do let me know about whatever you feel I write about.

Please let us make this space more interactive to make ourselves better in these fields of knoweldge.

For any queries, do call me up on (+91) 9224-17-8084 / 9833-77-1173.