Tuesday, August 16, 2016

We'd rather people are bored than confused. (Joe Lanman)

And that’s probably what makes usability engineers different from marketeers, or venture capitalists, or hot-shot designers, or budding entrepreneurs …

There is an incredible attraction to the bright, shiny object; to sizzle; to wowing and delighting your users; to making a splash in the marketplace. And there is definitely a place for that.

It is, however, a pretty high-stakes game. If you do it right, you might indeed achieve all those goals. If not, though, you might well fall flat on your face.

Now, here’s the rub … Not every user wants to be delighted or wowed, especially when they are simply trying to complete some basic task – buying something, looking up information, making a reservation, getting the balance on their bank account. Usually, they just want to get that task done, and without too much effort.

In that regard, boring can be a pretty good bet. Perhaps your interface doesn’t really need all those gizmos and gadgets and cool design trends you saw on those apps you and your friends were sharing the other day. 

Here’s the question you need to ask yourself … Are my innovations helping the user complete their task, or are they simply getting in the way?

Two great ways to accomplish the former are 1) to give the user functionality they never had before, and 2) to make your UI as clear and simple as possible. Examples of the former abound – Uber, eBay, Amazon, Venmo, Tinder … Examples of the latter are not as obvious, but there are still plenty out there (Google is always my favorite). In fact, a lot of real winners manage to do both at the same time.

On the other hand, one great way to get in the user’s way is to design your site, app, whatever around those gizmos and gadgets and cool design trends just because you think they’re innovative in themselves. They’re not. True innovation comes from solving user problems and then just simply getting out of the way.

Joe is an interaction designer for the UK Government

Monday, August 8, 2016

The test must go on. (Laura Klein)

What an incredible production a test can be. You’ve got to recruit the users, make sure the prototype is working, set up the meeting invites, get your test plan approved, reserve the lab, set up the technology, run your pilot, put your material together, get some water, get those gift cards ... 

It’s a lot like putting on a play. And, like a play, when the people start showing up (observers and users, in our case), there’s absolutely no backing out.

(Even when I’ve actually had my project team pull out [because of major switches in strategy, prototypes that just won’t work], I’ve still been able to get something out of it. Typically, I’ll turn it into an interview, or maybe a test of what some competitors offer, or maybe a test of something totally different. But with all the users recruited and paid for, you really need to do something.)

So, with all this complexity, it’s inevitable that something will go wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever had a prototype that hasn’t had some glitch in it. Heck, I’ve even had production systems go down on me. As for users, there will always be no-shows, or poor recruits, or late arrivals, or the ones who just won’t talk. On the technology side, cameras sometimes don’t work, feeds go black, and recording software crashes. And all that’s not even taking into consideration user error – i.e., the poor facilitator who’s trying to do a million things at once. 

The important thing to realize, though, is that every test is going to have some issue. At the same time, however, you will still get tons of great data. Now, some of that data might have to be thrown out, or some of it might have to be taken with a grain of salt, but it is truly amazing how much even the most imperfect of tests will give you.

The real challenge often is getting your observers to understand all this. And, sometimes, that starts right off the bat. One thing that I like to tell them is that “I’ll test whatever you can get me” and that “I can guarantee we’ll get something out of it.” Overall, though, my goal is to get them to relax, let the test happen, and concentrate on the results. 

Laura is the president of the wonderfully named Users Know, as well as the author of UX for Lean Startups and Build Better Products