The old rule in carpentry is measure twice, cut once, and that's exactly the idea behind software from iRise, which is designed to help software developers simulate human interactions and better define requirements before going to the trouble, time and expense of creating applications. The goal is to prevent the all-too-common late-stage discovery of significant flaws or gaps in new applications, thereby eliminating the cost of rework and delays in launching much-needed software.
Typically used to support development of custom applications, portals, existing system enhancements and Web-based front-ends to packaged software, iRise goes beyond paper-based diagrams and page-sequence documentation that gives users and developers only a rough idea of what to expect. Using iRise software, designers can combine would-be text and images with interaction widgets—such as drop-down lists and entry fields—that can be dragged and dropped into place and linked with sample data. A simulation engine then allows would-be users and developers to simulate interactions as they would occur in finished software.
Banking giant Wachovia started using iRise software in 2004, and the first project involved the development of a Web-based security credentials conversion application in support of a merger with First Union. The two banks had different logging on procedures for online banking customers, and the new conversion app was being developed to walk customers through the process of validating credentials and establishing a new sign-on procedure.
"Before [we had iRise] we would do prototypes [for such a new feature] on paper, but there was no way to see if customers could really use it interactively," says Carter Hansen, Wachovia's user centered design director. "We often encountered unexpected problems, but by that time you're already committed and in development."
Wachovia now uses iRise as a "high-fidelity" testing tool that it employs in focus-group usability tests. In the case of the credentials application, the bank tried three different configurations of the same procedure and had five to eight focus group participants try each one. Observers took notes on time required and misdirected navigation."To our surprise, a method proposed by one of our development partners worked better than the approach we were leaning toward," says Hansen.
Creating the first set of simulations took two people about six weeks part time, but Hansen says that first-time effort took longer because they had to build basic assets, such as Wachovia imagery and sample data, from scratch. In a more recent project—centered on testing combinations of online brokerage and banking features—one designer was able to create three variations on a would-be interface in little more than two weeks, says Hansen.
iRise software documents application requirements such as page-by-page navigation, integration points, field formatting, time constraints and other parameters, and it can be integrated with leading requirements management programs such as those from Rational and Borland.