Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Usability Testing. Oh, The Things You Can Learn."

Usability Testing. Oh, The Things You Can Learn.. An interesting article by Jared Spool. It leaves me wanting to ask him for some further clarification on some of his points but a couple of them I wholeheartedly agree with. If you read it, keep in mind that I think Jared is mainly talking about testing websites. There are some differences in emphasis when you compare that with a large scale corporate system but the points essentially still hold.

My approach in a large corporate setting has been to give testing a fairly low priority in introducing User Experience Design. My rationale is a bit like Jared mentions in his 'Preventing Usability Problems in the First Place'. I figured that if the design team never gets the chance to meet and try to understand the users and their goals at the outset, there is little point testing it with users at the end. In these situations I have often focussed on getting out at the start of a project because without that you are adrift before you begin and no amount of usability testing later is going to help you.

Jared puts it this way...
"If you trace any usability problem to its inception -- the point where the problem was introduced into the design -- you'll find the same underlying cause: someone on the design team didn't have a key piece of information. Had they had that information, they would've made a different design decision. That design decision would, subsequently, have resulted in a different design -- one without the usability problem.

The most successful teams have learned that the best way to produce a usable product is to make informed decisions from the outset. They don't look at usability testing as a final validation tool. Instead, they see the technique as a method to learn the necessary information to create great designs in the first place."

All that said it is one of my great regrets that I haven't managed to get more usability testing set up. I am very eager to get to use Morae to get a bit more scientific about this user experience design.

Jared also makes an interesting point about analysing the test results. This makes me smile. I was once conducting a usability test with a programmer friend sitting in. As an individual user expressed a concern he dived into the code to begin changing things. Here's Jared's take on why that might not be the best approach.

Preparing the test results is akin to assembling a story. You need to organize the characters, discover the plot, and set the scene. Sometimes, the characters take on a life of their own and take you in a direction you never expected.

The same is true when analyzing the data. Sometimes, patterns emerge you couldn't see as the testing progressed. It wasn't until we had the stickies all over the wall that we noticed every user had used the same term to describe a sub-goal. It was a term we'd never used, so we noted it every time we heard it. What we didn't realize was we had actually heard it from every user. The design subsequently changed to include that term.

Source: UIETips

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Joel on Customer Service...

Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service - an excellent article on customer service by Joel Spolsky.

Source: Optimal Usability Newsletter

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Broken: 'Push to exit' sign

When leaving the swim centre in Christchurch (NZ) you are confronted by this sign. I wonder what it is that you push to exit, the gate, the green button or the red button?
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WinDirStat - Windows Directory Statistics

Interesting to see Treemaps in use to analyse disk space usage -
WinDirStat - Windows Directory Statistics. Seems like a good use of this visualisation representation.

Source: Paul W

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Usability of a Book (funny)

YouTube Video about the usability of a book - really quite funny and I'm sure IT support people around the world will love it too.

Source: The usability discussion group which must remain nameless

Friday, February 09, 2007

"Usability by Copying" - Optimal Usability's Newsletter

My straight talking kiwi mate Trent from Optimal Usability has written an interesting piece on doing usability by copying. I imagine some people are horrified by this suggestion, not least a few lawyers, but I think Trent is right. I remember a designer who worked on a project for us once who designed a new kind of scrollbar. Not only did this cost our organization money but it made the user learn how to use something new when they didn't need to. We have enough complex problems to solve without needlessly re-inventing the wheel as a way to express ourselves.

Here's what Trent has to say on the matter.

Last week I was walking through a proposed site design with a client who had a limited usability budget. They wanted to make sure they had a very usable site, but couldn't afford to run a full research study. My advice? That they straight out copy. Imitate the date-picker widget at Cathay Pacific. Base the booking engine on Use a sign-in process like at Google.

You don't need to reinvent the wheel every time you are trying to solve an interaction problem. Many companies have significant usability budgets, and the result of their work is publicly available on the web. While these designs might not be perfect, they offer a great starting point. Here are a couple of things to take into account if you decide to copy other's designs....

Read more in the Optimal Usability Newsletter.

More on graphs - garmin gps training centre - hopeless

Following on from my previous post about graphs, here is an awful example from my Garmin Training Centre. The Garmin Forerunner 305 is a GPS device for runners. The graph shows my pace over a 15 mile run. You can see from the graph that I stopped a couple of times (to check the map - honest). The problem with the graph is that the fixed scale, which you apparently cannot change, goes from -10:00 min/mile pace (?!) to 1:10:00 min/mile pace (?! Walking pace is 20 min/miles). My normal running pace is from 6:30 min/mile to 8:30 min/mile pace. Even at the extremes I might need to see 5:00 min/mile to 12:00 min/mile. With this ludicrus default y-axis on the graph, the data shown is impossible to interpret.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Interesting Web-based Graphs

Relating to a project I've been working on for some time I often take a look at interesting graphing applications I come across. I just found a new graph on the Morning Star website showing stock data. The graph has useful crosshairs so you can walk along it seeing the closing price and the day's high and low price. The design is nice and clean and the text easy to read. If you want to take a closer look at a particular time period you can click to create your own time range of interest (the tab turns to 'custom'). It's neat.

I have previously been pretty impressed with the charts on google finance.

Source: I found these myself!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Decent & Free Usability Tool -

This is worth a look.

Free Web usability tool - (ZDNet, 5 Jan 2007) - "The Web Communications
Division in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of
the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, in collaboration with "many
federal agencies," offers a comprehensive, easy-to-use,
no-cost, online how-to guide for developing usable and useful Websites."

Source: UPA MONTHLY - FEBRUARY 2007 - The monthly newsletter of the Usability Professionals' Association

Friday, February 02, 2007

New Blog: How To Be A Good Product Manager: Product management tips

A great new blog about Product Management - check out How To Be A Good Product Manager: Product management tips

Recent entries include:
"Create solutions for many customers, not just one" (02-Feb)
"Customers and users are both important" (01-Feb)"
"Use caution with cannibalization" (31-Jan)
"Let go of your past" (30-Jan)