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Many are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, interestingly I discovered a Design Hierarchy of Needs, in  “Universal Principles of Design” by Lidwell, Holden and Butler, (page 124).  By addressing these following 5 needs – function, reliable, usability, proficiency, and creativity, when designing an elearning site the experience for the user will be positive and engaging.

With function you want to make sure that the site you are creating will be able to meet the objective.

reliable site will provide consistent and stable performance, through being able to access the site, log in, perform functions without encountering technical difficulties. In addition this will also look at reliability of the content.

Usability would be to provide easy navigation, consistent content display and delivery (how pages of the site appears), consider the time it takes to complete a task/module (performance load), providing different ways of delivering information (accessibility),

Proficiency looks at enabling a user to do something that was not previously known or to be able to complete a task that was not possible due to experience or knowledge or understanding.

Creativity will allow the user to interact with and explore the site further by applying the knowledge they acquired to situations –this brings in the simulations, gaming components to eLearning sites.

When designing a site, it may be taken for granted that the lower level design needs are met and much time may be focused on ways to be creative an interact with the audience.   I decided to look into this topic a bit more and found a article from Smashing Magazine on Designing for a Hierarchy of Needs. While the article itself is interesting, I was most focused on the examples provided towards the end of different websites which met different design needs.  I though of websites I had visited where links didn’t lead me to the right place, or accessing information was unreliable and the frustration felt during those experiences.

While some may argue that it is possible to address some of the lower level needs and present creative ways to engage and interact with users, I feel it is important to meet all the basic needs – If your site doesn’t work (load, link correctly, etc.) and is inconsistent then a user cannot access information or complete tasks. Regardless of the fun or creative ways that you may have come up with sharing information, these things will not be remembered or maybe even experienced if a user is turned off by running into navigational or function issues.

What this really boils down to is shaping a users experience and to do this and leave a user with a positive experience that they will share with others and will bring them back for more, a designer should ensure the needs of function, reliability, and usability are met – and this typically (or ideally) occurs during the testing phase before a site launch.

If you want to read more about different points of views and hierarchy’s of design, Newman Lanier’s article at a betteruserexperience.com.While I didn’t find the article overly compelling, to sway my thoughts on this subject, it brings together a few different perspectives and views on this subject.

I particularly like the infographic from 4 Stages Studio which I have placed at the start of this post. It brings together Maslow’s Hierarchy with the Design Hierarchy to provide 3 qualities of a successful site, useful, useable and desirable. I strongly agree with this and the view that users will look at a site from the top down while when designing, you must approach from the bottom up.