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User Experience and Architecture




Architecture descriptions tend to be dry and technical-looking affairs, with pictures of structure and process flow.  I’m pleased to say that we are seizing an opportunity to present a much more visual explanation of what our target architecture will mean for our users, particularly for our students.

For the last couple of months, we’ve had usability consultants on site working with our students and staff to review the “online experience” that students receive from university systems.  They presented their findings last week, including an outline proposal for a better approach.

To no-one's surprise, the mirror they held up to us showed a rather fragmented set of systems, with unhelpful names, instructions that were often unclear, different versions of the same information, important e-mails buried among less important information, inconsistent look-and-feel, and so forth.  The details of their report are fascinating but far too long for this blog.

What is relevant here is that the consultants also sketched what an integrated experience might look like, and I am taking this part of their report to form the first draft of our target user experience.  Instead of this report being filed in a forgotten folder gathering virtual dust, I want to make it part of our architecture.  The idea is that this will be a living document, to be updated over time by our usability experts and graphic designers. 

This is important. If we are to make this integrated experience a reality, we will need lots of work behind the scenes as well as work on the user-visible aspects.  In fact, we are already working on some of the steps along this path, such as a notification backbone and a set of microservice APIs. (The consultants also praised some of this work, such as our Edinburgh Global Experience Language.)  These sorts of changes can be difficult to explain to non-technical people; with actual examples from the report, we can show people what we are looking to achieve.

A quick look online suggests that there hasn’t been a lot of work combining user experience and architecture.  Yet the two often address the same concerns, and each is necessary to deliver a successful outcome.  It seems a highly synergistic combination to me and I hope to use that synergy to help produce a much better online experience for our students.

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