Improving Usability through UI Patterns in e-Government applications

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Usability is gaining importance, and is being recognized by standards body such as ISO as a criteria of quality software. Several disciplines contribute to UI such as cognitive psychology, participatory design and software ergonomics. Designers take help of defined guidelines to take right decision  to prevent common mistakes. However, the challenge with guidelines is that it takes expert knowledge to apply, as many of its recommendations are ambiguous or conflicting and not everything can be applied uniformly.


The ISO standards 9241 covers ergonomics of human-computer interaction. As per the standard, the key criteria that need to be tailored into UI design include:

  • Services should be relevant for the User Group: The functionality should be sufficiently detailed and informed leading to user awareness.
  • Technical aspects at User site: The levels of technical requirements at user end are recommended to be kept minimal. 
  • Reliability: The application design and infrastructure deployment should be responsive and secure so much so that users should be able to predict transactions.
  • Multilingualism: The user should be able to choose the language s/he wants to work in. India with 22 languages has its national portal  available in 2 languages where as Hongkong with 2 official languages (Chinese and English) has its national portal available in 9 languages.

“A good User Interface Design is when users are in control, are comfortable and enjoy to interact with Service. When it’s done well, users don’t even notice it.” 

Findings from research on Usability

Some common researches proposing good usability design discussed following elements:

  1. Provide a noise free representation of e-Government services
  2. Enable identification and articulation of e-Governance goals and objectives
  3. Identify the gap between the present and future states of e-Government deployment
  4. Support prediction of future trends affecting e-Government initiatives
  5. E-Government services should be transferrable across different contexts of application
  6. Support usability and expandability of E-government platforms

Many of the requirements listed above can be built and addressed with a good UI design. For example – seeking a feedback from users for their experience with a service can be an easy to build feature which delivers a lot of value for government department. This feedback pattern is available for every page of UK Government website. UI Design patterns bring practicality into designing aspect, recommend tailored solutions for specific kind of problems and are easier to apply. The challenge however here is that number of patterns required to cover every kind of problem is very high. Therefore leading to rise in volume of catalogue. 

Organizing a UI Pattern Catalog

User Testing is performed from the very beginning of application life cycle from mock up to applications in multiple iterations. However, it is hard to lead mock-up based processes in case there are many stakeholders. We can always gather UI patterns from multiple e-governance application and can have assessed by analysts for implementation. However, organizing is hard. A pattern may necessarily capture following:

 

  1. Title of Pattern
  2. Description of the pattern
  3. Use Cases: When the pattern should be applied, and when not.
  4. Layout: Advices about the visual implementation of the pattern
  5. Rationale: Logic/ reasoning for the using the pattern
  6. Wireframe: Draft UI, Screen Flow with Page Level and some Basic Components

E-Government is highly repetitive domain, which makes relevant to reinvest design knowledge from one project to another. The recurrent fragments of e-Government User Interface are presented as under:

 

  • Screen Flow Patterns present the structure to government procedure .
    • File Management presents the application stage in various process streams
    • Hub and Spoke flow present a dashboard to user, and allow him to choose to enter into a process flow (same as in funneling)
    • Consult and Modify data screens present view to modify certain data items in a displayed list.
    • Multi-Step Wizard flow consists of strongly guided sequence of pages to achieve a single procedure.
    • Role Management follows different screen/ option presentation to user as soon as user selects a role.
  • Page Level Patterns present the field grouping and layouts. Some examples can be
    • Acknowledgement of Receipt displays what has been submitted/ requested and can be printed.
    • Advancement Box representing the progress & current status of user service request in a multi-step processes
    • Clear Entry Points supports features wherein users take separate process path. Limited with few choices, these may be mandatory information taking user to different parts of application.
    • Overview page is displayed at the end of the procedure and, if validated both by the user and the system, it leads to the Acknowledgement of Receipt
  • Basic Components Patterns present signal about form fields. Some example can be
    • Download link to provide information such as type and size of file (27KB, PDF file)
    • Mandatory fields have to signaled with an asterisk after the label.
    • Conditional activation of field e.g. Name of the spouse is disabled in case applicant is single.
    • Accessibility features for disabled & specially-abled.
    • Typography to ensure standardization among applications of the same portal.

Further Readings

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