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Conceptual Design: Cornerstone of Usability

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The conceptual model or metaphor of a software user interface (UI) (for example, an artist's palette used by commercial drawing applications) contributes greatly to a UI's ease of learning and ease of use. When that model is unclear, does not match users' expectations, or is absent entirely, it is a major hurdle for even the most internally consistent interface to overcome. This article suggests why conceptual design is so often neglected by development teams and presents a five-step process for developing a sound conceptual model for a software application. The crux of the process is the development of multiple models and low-fidelity prototypes. There are also recommendations describing how technical communicators can reinforce and support conceptual design on their projects. Last, the author depicts how organizations committed to usability ensure that conceptual design is given the attention it deserves.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 1996

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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