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Over the past couple of years, the concept of triangulation related to end-user research has gained a lot of traction on the interwebs (here's Patrick Kennedy's excellent Johnny Holland article on this exact theme). As it turns out, most of the end-user research I've done on enterprise scale projects over the past 7+ years does fall quite elegantly under this definition, even though I never thought of labeling it that way until recently. My goal for approaching user research in this manner has always been to eliminate bias as much as possible, and use different datasets to justify research findings.
While this post covers my own approach, I won't waste any virtual ink on the theory of user research triangulation, Patrick Kennedy's article referenced above does it more justice than I ever would. Also, my approach is in no way prescriptive, it is simply a three-step research methodology that I personally find particularly useful when it comes to working with samples of large user populations, more often than not scattered across multiple geographical locations. I've settled on this pattern based on a number of trial-and-error attempts to combine various user research methods, in some of the larger projects I've been involved with. In most cases, I was either working in tandem with another UX professional or I was leading an entire UX team.
The first mistake made out there is assuming that wireframes are primarily a design deliverable rather than an information architecture (IA) deliverable. The right interpretation should be self-explanatory. I personally use wireframes to demonstrate information, task flow and page flow rather than branding or graphics design. However, the notion of a wireframe has been expanded lately to include everything from physical hand-drawn paper screen mockups to high-fidelity, fully branded screen designs. This being said, my personal preference is somewhere in the middle as I prefer to use specialized applications to create them as a basis of discussion of content and overall structure rather than visual display.
If anyone's ever looked at a typical wireframe (and i say 'typical' very loosely as everyone personalizes the way they create them), you will notice that it consists of a collection of boxes, controls and annotations that make up the skeleton of an application screen. Each box may be an image, a section, a cell or a placeholder for application content.
When presenting screen design in the form of wireframes, application controls are also included. For example, in the case of a wireframe created for a web application, representations corresponding to HTML form controls will be added to the screen design in order to make the wireframe appear as an early drawing of the final product.
Some people (like me) still prefer 'old school' paper prototyping, card sorting, Visio wireframes and xHTML (for high-fidelity prototyping). However, in my current project I'm managing a UI team of 10, and since joining the project I've been forced to use iRise 6.x for client-relationship reasons, which brings up the title question of this post. There have been many opinions out there about the use of UX-specific tools (such as Axure, iRise, Denim, etc.) and I wonder if there's any consensus out there as far as what works well and what doesn't.
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