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


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