Recently, someone shared some insightful advice at a company meeting: “Beware the Kanata Syndrome”. He was speaking about the risk to innovation when designers get “too comfortable” and don’t look beyond their own backyards for inspiration. Silicon Valley North is a relatively chaos-free environment. We don’t battle drug lords, or corrupt regimes. We live in prosperity and safety. At a global level, we are a very small minority.
As inventors, we need to look globally to find profound innovation and develop products that solve real problems.
Back in the big budget days of Nortel – we would research new ideas in far flung places… Ecuador, Colombia, Vietnam… Here’s a picture of me and former colleague Cam Davis straddling the equatorial line near Quito, Ecuador.
Alvaro’s point is further validated by the amount of energy and innovation demonstrated at the various BarCamp events worldwide. Some exciting camps are being held over the next few months in Ireland, Stockholm, Drupal, Klagenfurt, Peoria, Paris, and yes… even Saskatoon!
This usability method is great for getting quick results – especially for products that require “instant usability” – immediate use without documentation or training. I’ve been using this method for over 20 years. Back at BNR, we used it to test phones. The method applies equally well to web-based products such as Software as a Service (SaaS). The method is not recommended for those types of applications that are mission-critical. I am presuming that you’re not building an Ajax-based air traffic control system!!
Using the co-discovery method, you’ll be testing two people at one time. The main benefit of this is that the participant will likely discuss out loud their strategy for completing the test. My personal preference is recruiting pairs of people who know each other. It gives them extra confidence to speak their minds about the experience, and you’ll get more qualitative comments (how much like like or dislike the look and feel for example.)
To design the research, write out a list of tasks that you want your participants to complete. These tasks should follow the same flow that you’d have in your development scenarios or use cases. Keep the tasks reasonably granular (for example, signing up for a new account, login in, changing password, updating a profile, etc) As your users complete these tasks take note of unneccessary confusion introduced by the visual design or the language of the product. If users err in completing a task – are they able to recover from that error on their own? If they can’t recover, is online help available? To keep the test going, you can provide hints – if they’re really stuck. In your next iteration – fix the problem, and test again! When all the tasks have been completed, you can “interview” the pair to assess their overall opinion of the experiment.
In the early stages of design (pre-development) you can use “paper prototypes” of the design. This consists of individual mocked-up screenshots. You ask the users to pretend it’s real by talking about which buttons they’d press – and what functions they expect in different sections of the product.
It’s important that the person running the test not influence the users. It’s best to be watching from a different room using a video feed. Often that’s not possible – so try and give the users as much distance, and simply take notes and remain non-judmental. When introducing the test assure the participants that the test is to find problems with the product so the designers can improve it.
Although the methodology is quite simple – it can uncover significant issues with design. I usually test 5 pairs of people, and keep the session at 30 to 60 minutes.
With the right method you don’t need to recruit as many people as you might think! Here’s a chart created by Usability Guru Jakob Nielsen. Five test sessions will get you most of the answers you need. In fact you’ll get much more useful data if you test 5 people x 2 design iterations than 10 people for 1 iteration. By testing only one person you risk that you picked a really odd fellow! Once you have three… the trends start to show up. By five you can be very certain that most of the major usability ssues have been uncovered.
It’s important that you find people with no knowledge of what you’re about to test. Also it’s preferable to find people who don’t know you – to reduce the risk of bias. You’re not going to learn anything by asking your mother to test your latest web 2.0 project. After all, didn’t she crochet a lovely wall-hanging based on your very first C++ routine???
Coming Up in AMBUSH USABILITY… The Co-Discovery Method.
No budget or time for your logo? Just type your company name HERE for a free instant logo!
A few weeks ago, I talked about our “free” logo versus our professional “west-coast” designed logo that our VCs insisted we get. The free one got blasted by many people – the image somehow wasn’t very IE friendly (it still isn’t). It looks okay on Safari… Well here’s another version… The cool thing (we thought) about the name anbiun is that you can spin it to spell unique. That was the goal of the product: to allow customers to choose their own unique web-experience.
My beloved little iBook has developed athitis – make that arthritis… the R key is ill! When I want to type “SensoryMetrics” I get “SensoyMetics” which goes nowhere. So nowhere in fact that Google has no suggestion… no pictures … nothing! All of the domains are also available!
Need a name for you WEB2.0 statup? SensoyMetics is up fo gabs!
A few months ago, someone asked me how she could conduct cheap focus groups to assess usability of her product. The question itself raises a red flag. First – let’s look at three basic types of research and their purpose.
1. Qualitative Market Research: this helps you assess product concepts – usually presenting your ideas to your intended customers or leaders in the industry you’re targetting. The most common method is focus groups, and that’s where targetted recruiting of participants is very important. The results of these groups will most likely influence your business case.
2. Quantitative Market Research: this gives you answers to specific questions – like price points, feature priorities, distribution channels… The method for this is usually surveys, as you need lots of responses for statistical significance.
3. Usability Testing: Use this to assess product design. You can evaluate the ease of use of your product, whether users understand the navigation, and whether they can complete the tasks that your software enables. Things you’ll want to watch for is whether there’s confusion in the language, if users make mistakes – are they able to recover from those mistakes without requiring assistance. The overall goal is to make sure that your users don’t give up on your product in frustration, or require a support call. A third objective could be – can users use your product without any documentation or help? For best results, usability testing should be done often. The results can be used to continually improve as you develop. Start testing before you start coding!
Tomorrow, I’ll describe an easy methodology that is quick and cheap.
Nice example of viral marketing from Joost(TM). Love the token idea. Probably allows them to grow the service at a reasonal pace. Sounds like they’ll need a bunch of servers.
“Thank you.. ..Don’t want to wait? Try getting hold of an invitation from another tester. All new beta-testers now get tokens allowing them to invite friends and acquaintances, and these tokens will give you instant access to Joost(TM). Get ahead of the curve -beg your friends for an invite today!”
Ruff! Ruff! By the way please send me a token if anyone out there has one to spare!
I’ve been asked that often in 20 years. Even when the question is answered, some people are incredulous that such a profession exists. The profession has existed formally for over 50 years. The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society is holding its 51st annual meeting in October 2007.
Wikipedia decribes this way:
“Human factors” is an umbrella term for several areas of research that include human performance, technology, design, and human-computer interaction. It is a profession that focuses on how people interact with products, tools, procedures, and any processes likely to be encountered in the modern world.
Part of the problem in getting mainstream recognition of human factors that many other terms are used to describe the work: User Interface, Ergonomics, Cognitive Ergonomics, Human-Computer Interaction, Computer-Human Interaction, Flow Design, Visual Interaction, Information Architecture, Product Design, Graphical User Interface, Interaction Design, Usability, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Pixel Pushing, and the current blockbuster – User Experience Design (UX). The popular term in the 80s was Man Machine Interface (MMI). “People Machine Interface” just never caught on!