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Prioritizing Top Tasks: Have Others Do It For You

You now know who you’re writing for and how they’ll react to your website, and those are the top two priorities. It’s time to determine how you should prioritize the features of your interface in response to the user scenarios you’ve created.
Je Sauro, founder of Measuring Usability LLC, explains how to handle the multitude of tasks every designer has on their to-do pile. He encourages using a strategy of having prospective users themselves prioritize the tasks for you, originally proposed by Gerry McGovern in his book The Stranger’s Long Neck.

  1. List the tasks — Identify features, content, and functionality that need to be addressed, and list them in the users’ language, avoiding technical jargon. Present them in a randomized order to representative users you think might be interested in your site.
  2. Ask the users to pick five — If you’ve properly laid out all the tasks, then there should be a lot. The user will skim the list for keywords, and notate the ones important to them.
  3. Graph and analyze — Count up the votes and divide by the number of users.

Typically this forms the “long neck” shape, hence McGovern’s title.

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That’s the basic gist: not only do you now know what your top priorities should be, but you have them veri ed by your users. Sauro explains in another article how this long neck organization of problems coincides with the Pareto principle.

Proposed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1906, the Pareto principle — or the 80-20 rule — brought to light that 80% of the country’s wealth and land was owned by 20% of the people. But this extends beyond economics. As it turns out, many things follow the Pareto principle, more-or-less:

  • 68% of U.S. taxes are paid by the top 20%.
  • 90% of wireless bandwidth is consumed by 10% of the cell phone users.
  • Microsoft noted that by xing the top 20% of the most reported bugs, 80% of the errors and crashes would be eliminated.
  • Did that last one catch your attention? If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll see that by addressing the top tasks in your long neck graph rst, you’ll end up taking care of most of the problems quickly. After all, it worked for Microsoft.

    As complementary methods, you can also use the Kano method, QFD method, and cause & e ect diagrams to prioritize user needs for your web interface.

    Plunging Ahead with a Plan

    You have your personas on hand for reference, you know how they’d theoretically react to the site, and you know what tasks must be accomplishable by the interface. You are a designer with a plan, and all that’s left is to put that plan into action.

    But there’s a lot to be said about how you put your plan into action, not just that it gets done. In the next section, we’ll talk about how to visually prioritize elements of the interface, plus effective patterns and how/when to use them.

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