The Standard Work Specifications tool is an industry guide for workers, training instructors, homeowners, and program administrators involved in the home performance industry. It provides online access to industry-approved work specifications that define acceptable outcomes for weatherization and home energy upgrades.
Phase 1 of the project took place between June 2012 and December 2012. The project continues with planned updates of data from the three housing guides, as well as iterative UI enhancements as budget and user research allow.
I was a user centered design (UCD) consultant and UI designer for the tool. I led the collaborative design phase of our UCD process, and produced all the major design deliverables. I also participated in the usability study as an observer and presented the results of the UCD process to the clients.
The Challenge – Bare Bones
Our clients at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) needed to deliver the standard work specifications in an accessible online format. Our goal was to apply a UCD approach to ensure that the online application was usable for the target audiences.
User research revealed the desire for all sorts of added functionality and features that we continually had to reign ourselves in from creating. Our task was simply to provide the interface for the data from the industry guide in a usable and searchable format, along with an API that would allow industry to pull that data and build their own value-added applications.
Complicating the development of the web application was the fact that the documents the application was based on were not yet complete. The three Standard Work Specifications guides were still being developed and shopped around to industry, and the numbering and categorization system from the documents that would form the basis for our application’s navigation was still in flux.
We were also working with an immutable deadline for the launch of the tool; data that needed to be formatted for the database even while it was being updated, revised, and reconfigured; and legacy requirements from another organization’s previous design proposal. Luckily, we had a sound user centered design methodology in place that allowed us to tackle these challenges one step at a time.
Our user centered design methodology started with stakeholder interviews to understand what the Standard Work Specifications were and the need they were intended to fulfill. The SWS were part of a larger project to help establish a national residential energy upgrade industry and a skilled and credentialed workforce. The specifications for single-family, multifamily, and manufactured housing describe acceptable outcomes for weatherization or home performance upgrades—effective, durable, and safe improvements for each housing type. These were being developed as documents, but the web application we were developing needed to present the three standard work specifications as a unified resource, eliminating redundancies between them.
We then conducted user research to understand our target audiences. Fortunately, the stakeholders included industry partners and associations that provided us with real user contacts, and our team conducted in-depth interviews with a number of actual users. From these interviews, we were able to create personas and scenarios that mapped to the four main user groups that would comprise our target audience.