This week was my first time to be exposed to the starting process of a usability study and all the preparation that is involved in getting your targeted audience. The process in which you write and organize your screener questions to help you narrow down a large potential population down to a small handful was eye opening for me. You want to have your eliminator questions, as I like to call them, right at the start, so you don’t waste the participant’s time or your own as a consultant, or the business’s as an employee. Yes, of course, you can hire a company, then budgeting their costs becomes a factor when you’re writing your proposal. Finally, once you have your target group now begins the fun part, when you give the user a scenario and where you observe a user going through your tasks that you’ve presented to them. Getting user unbiased feedback and listening to their feedback and watching them finding the challenges and opportunities in your product can be very rewarding because you know you have the ability to make something better. That is after all in the end as a user experience designer when I get the most reward from my work.
Understanding the differences between Formative and Summative Assessments are great and all, however when it comes time to implement into the real world or in this case in a startup furniture business it never goes according to plan. When you are dealing with founders of the company, and when there is tons of overhead in facilities, employees, etc. the pressure is high to start getting orders in the door to generate revenue. Would I have loved to have the opportunity to conduct a user-centered design session or design sprints, of course, I would?
So now that the real world takes effect, the very first version of the website had your basic e-commerce online shopping aspects to search or find your product, add to cart, checkout, view gallery, blog, contact us, about us, etc. We also incorporated our main business differentiator and why our furniture was the best quality and customer service. While we were creating the designs, our testing and users all came from in-house people along with their friends and family; I guess you could call it an informal, informative assessment study.
One of the best things we learned was from our live site with real world users giving us feedback for our summative assessment. I know this is completely unorthodox, but that is what we had to do, and we collected tons of data from feedback that was sent in and Google Analytics data. As orders came in and the popularity of the brand grew, we came together to take what we learned, my vision for the brand and created the updated version 2.0 of the website and company taking it to the next level. Although we did not go the traditional routes in our testing or methods, it was one that is truly a success story and a hallmark project in my career.
Is it just me that I find it hilarious when I hear marketing people wanting to run a “usability test” when a product or website is about to launch. Then, come to find out they only want to see what people think or feel when they get people in the room instead of letting users use the product or website. As Steve Krug says here’s the difference in a nutshell between doing a focus group and usability testing: A focus group is getting a small group of people to TALK about things, give opinions about product or past experiences with them. A usability test is about observing a person USING the product to identify problems or frustrations so they can be fixed during the process.
Doing usability tests are great throughout the entire process of developing a new product from paper prototypes to full blown digital prototypes. Testing should often be done as well as design iterations to create the most compelling usability experience of the product. It also costs less to test now and often test to get it right versus only testing after a fully developed product hits the market. You only need 3 to 5 participants each time you do a usability test session, and it can be done anywhere; you don’t need a particular room or high tech equipment. Keep in mind you are only checking for user’s behavior, patterns, and possible pain points. You don’t need to have hundreds or thousands of participants that many people think you do for statistical significance for quantitative data because I’m trying to solve a problem and simply need to gain qualitative data.
With User Experience being still a relatively new field, as well as being new to many stakeholders, executives, and business owners – it is up to us as a UX professional to communicate the process clearly to the decision makers. If we communicate the benefits both from a time and financial aspect to devote more time to research upfront, then we can develop a better product that is released market.
Many apps, products, or even services that are released to market really have only one shot to get it right in front of users to adopt it at an early stage. If you get it right, then those early adopters will naturally market your product to others. If you get it wrong, then it’s going to be a very difficult time for you to make significant changes to convince users that you’ve gotten it right the second time around. So… why not just trust the process to a UX professional that will help understand your product, do the research, design, test and then repeat the design iteration & test process to get the best possible product out there.
By the time the UX professional gets the final design flow to developers they have a great understanding of the product and the challenges ahead of time before it is released to market.
This week in class has given me some time to reflect back at the start of the course. What I found is that communication both verbally and in writing my findings in each report is important. I don’t think that many print designers, website designers, or graphic designers realize when they want to transition to doing full UX projects from start to finish their writing skills needs improve. Personally, for myself, this class has allowed me to practice and also research how to write better proposals, findings, reports, etc. Always keep in mind that what you’re writing and sending to your clients or stakeholders will probably be reviewed and seen by executives and decision makers. Thus, make sure you writing is clear and concise. Good luck to all you UXers out there!
I have found this great short and straightforward article by Digital Telepathy, 7 Writing Tips For Creating Great User Experience Here are seven tips to write copy that leads to a great user experience:
1. Practice simplicity
2. Taper instructions
3. Become one with the product
4. Write descriptions with FAQs in mind
5. Don’t make them beg for information
6. Make sure it is easy to read
7. Address the user
Although I have had a number of experience doing user centered design sessions or design sprints…actually conducting the interviews and research of usability testing was fairly new to me. Just like anything new the only way to get better at something is to practice, practice, practice… and do research to become a student of the craft you want to become better at. It also helps to be involved in UX and the entire process so that you know what to look for, what to ask for, how to understand what you do in usability testing will translate into actionable items.
A good resource article that I ran across was Honing Your Usability Testing Skills: An Interview with Ginny Redish and I really like these simple bullet points here from this article:
Some aspects that I find design teams often need help with are:
• Thinking about the issues—what you want to learn from the usability test
• Writing good scenarios—that test the web site or product without giving away too much
• Facilitating comfortably—knowing when to talk and when not to, how to ask neutral questions, how to keep participants thinking aloud
• Taking good notes without missing anything critical
• How to report results so that the right people act on them
Many companies or projects that you come across don’t allocate time needed to do testing, which is a big mistake in my opinion. I find guerrilla usability testing or doing guerrilla paper prototype testing very useful to get some initial data and feedback from people that have no bias or investment in your product. Getting your initial designs tested prior to spending extra design or even programming time in making a coded model saves you from spending time and money from going down the wrong path. Also you can move quickly through design and iterations by doing these early rounds of testing. It can be a lot of fun doing paper prototypes and testing as it has a real arts & crafts feel when you’re going through the process. Bottom line good research and good testing can save a lot of money and help save companies from developing nice to have wants of a CEO for example; to design and develop the wants & needs of actual users of those products to make it successful.
So there’s a term that some designers may know, but most designers probably won’t unless you’re doing new product development that will leverage all of our current and near future technology. That term is “Blue Sky (Design) Thinking” which simply means to do the most creative thinking you possibly can that is not conventional and not grounded in today’s reality. By doing this means you really think outside the box to problem solve challenges and then once you’ve vetted out your creative ideas, it’s time to reel it in some to see what we can actually do now or in the near term. One of the benefits of doing projects like this is to break your design normal pattern, go out into the world to create inspiration boards of current competitor products, new technology products, and see what various different ways of current products out there that you can bring bits and pieces of to solve the current challenges that you have today. This also helps you push your design skills as well as to push the skills of your development team as well. The ultimate goal of Blue Sky Thinking to take what you currently may have and push your product or service into the future for a better user experience for current and new customers that you may have.
“Why is user experience research important?” says the client. Well… dear client if we are building a product that only you and your closest friends and family will be using, I’ll be more than happy to build whatever it is you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking to scale your product to a wider audience such as the general public, it is very important that we conduct some user research prior, during, and even after the prototype is finally built, then released. Users will give us insight that we may have missed in our initial ideation phase or if the majority of the users use the product in a different direction than originally intended, then we would have to consider pivoting in a whole new direction. More often than you may think this happens and it happens to some really famous and visible brands such as Twitter, Slack, etc.
“I’m still not sure if we should spend the time and money on user experience research.” says the client. Ahhh, I got it. Let me speak your language, if you do proper user experience research upfront it will: SAVE YOU MONEY, GENERATE YOU MORE REVENUE, AND GIVE YOU A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE!!! Oh, I got your attention now? Nice. When you do the research at the start of the project you will gain qualitative and quantitative data that will help you define who your users are, what their needs are, what their wants are, we’ll be able to validate assumptions, put off that “really cool” new feature that you think is a must have, when it’s something users may not even use or worse find it distracting and avoid your product all together.
Until you do the research you will never know for sure if you’re going in the right direction and even if you get it right or if you’re a behavioral psychologist practicing in user experience for 20 years – you still need to validate your hypothesis. Below are 7 best practices to keep in mind when doing user experience research:
Seven Interview Best Practices
- Set proper expectations
- Shut up and listen
- Minimize biased questions
- Be friendly
- Turn off your assumptions
- Avoid generalizations
- Don’t forget the non-verbal cues
Let me start off by saying there’s nothing wrong with people that simply want to push papers around, create theoretical work or even documentation. If that’s your cup of tea and what you enjoy then great! However as a designer at heart and a person that is looking to create the very best possible user experiences you have to be willing to get your hands dirty to create “real work.” When you’re making things, you don’t get bogged down by number of pixels something is, spacing, or what the final visual design will be. What you should care about is how something functions, the flow, users understanding, prototyping, making changes quickly, and did I solve the problem. There’s nothing greater as a designer when you have that feeling where you solved the problem that you set out to accomplish. As a maker you become closer to the products you’re making and you be come a skilled craftsman. Thus, as a UX designer and practitioner it’s our jobs to be come better and better craftsman to create the very best possible user experiences for every product that we touch; as well as becoming advocates for users. It will take time, however once you have the mindset, determination, and skill set; you’ll have an opportunity to create something that changes lives.
As you see from the main image above is a photo from my friend Jessie Martinez whom runs an online store called Avenueva. Well over 14 years now that I’ve met Jessie from college, he’s always enjoyed making things with his hands. That want and desire to make things is something you simply have within you or you don’t, that’s why we’re called makers. So just like many of us after college, we all go to intern or work somewhere at a design firm or agency. You get to a point as I think almost all us designers do that you feel what you’re doing for other design firms or agencies isn’t truly satisfying you as a maker, that’s because most places simply want you to work fast and create something that looks good. After a while you simply become a paper pusher designer, so you either quit the design field entirely or you pick up a hobby becoming a craftsman and being a maker. In Jessie’s case, he’s always had a love for printmaking, but really enjoyed doing small pieces of jewelry in this spare time. Thus a challenge was born, where he didn’t see anyone making any jewelry for printmaking tools. After thousands of hours now, Jessie has honed his craft and many people from all over the world orders custom and handmade tiny printmaking tool jewelry from him through his online shop, Avenueva.
- Blog inspiration from the introduction to the book Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning by Dan M. Brown, he talks about “Describing vs Doing.”
- Photos used are copyright by Avenueva and Jessie Martinez.