Sunday, September 28, 2008
I created an activity booklet with several activities from a "Who am I?" collage to a 30 day product use diary. Because the software targeted customers with creative interests, stickers, markers, and colored pencils were provided with the booklet.Twenty people completed the study, most very thoroughly detailing their personal interests, their artistic passions, and their abilities both with the software and with PC-use in general.
With identifying information removed, copies of the completed booklets were distributed in the break room, on the goody table, and on the desks of those who expressed an interest. Software and QA engineers, product managers, marketing staff, and VPs read these booklets and told me how much they had learned about the "new" customer. They finally understood that it was time for a change and were inspired to develop amazing new features better suited to the user.
While it was not statistically significant, the results from the diary study led to a stronger understanding of the user, not just by the user experience team, but by the entire development team. That is a priceless experience that I would recommend for almost any product.
Friday, September 26, 2008
When I've encountered this situation in the past, I've done one of two things. If the problems are serious enough and definitely persistent, I will do one more round of testing and be sure to highlight in my results that this is consistent with findings from every previous round. Usually that does the trick for a team that really wants to release a user-friendly product. If I'm not sure the project team will use my results, I'll set up a meeting, reiterating the importance of following through on past usability test results and insist that the critical issues be addressed before any further testing will commence. That method usually works when it's just a project manager who has hedged on making changes.
The question I have is what do you do when neither of these methods works? Do you give up and move on to another project, writing off any chance of fixing the product or do you keep pushing the project team to develop for their users?
I'd like to open this up for discussion. What is your advice on how to handle this? Usability analysts - what works for you?
I'd also like to hear from those who work with usability teams. What do you need to hear from us to help drive usability-related changes?
User Research Can Start Now
Applied Strategic Thinking: User Research
Predict Expert Task Time with CogTool
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Half Haunted Halloween at Wood Lake Nature Center
October 4 from 11am-4pm
Harvest Day at Historic Forestville
October 11 from 1-4pm
Autumn Baking with Pat Sinclair at the Mill City Museum
October 21 from 6-7pm
Comfort Food at Byerly's
St. Louis Park, Minn.
Twin Cities Events for September 2008
Twin Cities Events for August 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
- The project team learns how much I could help if brought on another project even earlier.
- I can teach people what usability and user research is all about.
- Recommendations will become ingrained in the heads of the project team, ideally meaning that those problems won't exist in future applications.
However, I'm happiest when engaged at the beginning of a project lifecycle. As soon as you know you are creating or changing a product, call me - immediately.
Why immediately? Because user research can begin immediately.
Here's what a usability/ux researcher can do for you:
Help gather requirements
Want to know what your customers really need? Let a researcher hang out with them, observe them working with your product, ask them open-ended questions, and identify both what works and what doesn't. They don't even need to already use your product. Watching a customer complete their work without your product is just as valuable.
Find problems before you upgrade
In cases where it's time for a product upgrade or appearance refresh, let a usability researcher have a look. Using their vast knowledge of usability guidelines and experience from previous projects, a researcher can identify quite a few major usability problems before you put that product in front of users.
Help ensure the best experience for your customers
Let the usability researcher evaluate your sketches, your wireframes, and your prototypes. Don't ever feel like it's too early to engage the user experience team. It probably isn't. The earlier you catch usability problems, the cheaper and faster they are to fix.
Validate an awesome design
If the design meetings the needs of your customers, you'll know before you launch, if you engage a usability researcher. The researcher can run a few test sessions in front of actual customers as they perform specific workflow tasks. If there are still usability problems at this point, you'll know. If not, you'll have some validation that you made great design decisions.
It is ideal to bring that usability researcher into your project as early as possible and to devote the appropriate amount of research time into the schedule. Not all usability work takes a lot of time. Even the tightest schedule can have some amount of user research included, even if just a couple of hours for a quick expert review.
Monday, September 15, 2008
In my life, I've had side contract projects for a long time, lasting anywhere from a few months to several years. I never felt insecure about these roles. They were temporary, yet so long-term I never really thought about their end dates until I felt it was time for me to wrap up. There was never a final deliverable as it was all on-going work and because of this, I felt like I didn't have as much of an impact as I would have liked.
What I want are short-term projects. I want to create a project plan, do some fancy research, present my findings, and wrap up with a client. I want the variety of multiple clients. I want the notoriety of outstanding, fantastic work. I seem to want it all.
I really don't.
At this point in my life, I want the security of a salaried paycheck. I want inexpensive healthcare and an employer-matched 401k. I don't want to spend hours each week pitching my schpiel to people who really want a marketing guru or web designer.
That said, I do want to do more consulting work. It's been almost a year that I've taken a break and it's time I get back into things with a couple of small research projects. I don't see myself as a full-time consultant anytime in the near future but I'm excited to be back and even more excited to have my husband working alongside me as an engineering analyst. Having that technical expertise will be invaluable in my usability work.
Friday, September 12, 2008
It is easy to get caught up in deadlines, rushing to complete a few usability tests and crank out findings that solve individual problems. We really need to schedule time to look at the big picture. Just a couple more hours spent analyzing data may show that a product needs to take a new direction or that perhaps it is time to invent a new workflow instead of adding a button here or moving a checkbox there. It's time to stop telling stakeholders about widgets, colors, and fonts and present wholistic recommended solutions.
The applied strategic thinking course focused on six steps, but I'd like to talk about three of those today.
1) Tame the beast
Often, usability research results are expected in an unreasonably short turn around time. We deal with this by either requesting more time (often difficult to achieve) or saying, "Yep. Sure thing. Will do." We compromise on results, we look at each detail separately, and inevitably we do not always provide the best solution simply because there is no time to research it. This is a beast on our usability lives that must be tamed.
2) Select the right target
We need to learn to find compromise in the schedule and work toward teaching project managers to build time for our services into the project plan.
3) Create action steps and set deadlines
It is critical to set a few action steps that can be achieved quickly. This will help you feel better and more motivated as you work toward taming the usability research "point problem" beast long-term.
There is quite a lot more to applied strategic thinking than these three highly abbreviated steps. My hope is to get usability researchers back into thinking about long term goals, wholistic solutions, and pushing back on project managers to have more time to find the best solution to a set of problems.
If you are interested in learning more about the class I took, please feel free to send me an email. The class was hosted by the Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness. According to their website, it appears that if only one or two people from an organization attend, the training fee is waived. Please check with CMOE for confirmation of this arrangement before registering for a class.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
The first half of this week, we'll be having broiled chicken breast with corn chowder, braised pork chops with brown rice, and grilled flaxseed tempeh with jicama and carrot salad.
We already had chicken, rice, and most of the necessary spices. Additional spices were purchased from the bulk canisters for pennies per meal. My groceries for Sunday-Wednesday (we eat out 1-2 times a week) included:
One whole jicama
Fine black pepper
Ginger root powder
One bunch of green onions
One Fuji apple
One russet potato
Three yellow onions
Two green peppers
Two ears of organic sweet corn
Fresh, organic cilantro, italian parsley, rosemary, and thyme
Three natural boneless pork chops
Organic chicken broth
Organic silken tofu
Two organic candy bars for dessert
Five organic, vegetarian frozen dinners for lunch
Blue Sky Natural Cola (would prefer organic, but natural is cheaper)
All this for $70. Just three months ago, I could have bought these same items for about $50. I know I could shop cheaper. I could buy fewer organics, avoid the fresh spices (which, as soon as my garden is full, will be possible), skip the candy and cola, and choose to eat just chicken instead of more expensive meats. However, as long as I am able to afford it, I'll eat what I want. I'm just going to keep track at how the economy is doing. When groceries cost less, I'll put the difference in a savings account for a rainy day.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Recently, I received my August copy of Appliance Design magazine with a drawing of an Xbox controller on the cover. It was a little different and not branded as Xbox or Microsoft and I was curious. Remembering my disdain for large controllers, I hoped this article was discussing new game controller designs. Perhaps they would change the shape just a little bit, just enough for me to grab on and play for hours and hours.
This post seems like it will discuss the ergonomic aspects of the Xbox controller, but really it will do just as the enticing Appliance Design cover did – lure me in but discuss a completely different topic. Actually, the article didn’t have anything to do with the shape and size of the product. I was just lured in by memory and recollection of a past situation. Don’t blame the magazine for my sudden blog post topic switch. Blame me.
The topic of the article was actually intriguing and one of interest to me as a user research analyst. Richard Babyak discusses the idea of embedding displays on buttons and keyboard keys. His point that designers have spent a lot of time trying to push consumers on touchscreens reminds me of the appliance study I worked on with Anind. The reality is that while as designers, we want to push the limits and not force people to keep doing what they’re used to, if we don’t consider what works well about the present design, the future design may fail. What works with traditional button design is the tactile feedback. Touchscreens don’t offer that.
The Appliance Design article, Keys to Engagement discusses the innovation of United Keys’ concept of “display keys”. Babyek talks about use for this design for the restaurant industry. In fast food, often there are special cooking buttons. Press chicken sandwich and the oven knows what temperature and how long to cook the chicken. When the restaurant adds new food options, it can be an expensive hassle to change the system. With display keys, the change could happen remotely. Someone would program the new display and through a network update, the button would show a new label or icon. Chicken sandwich could become fish sticks or cheeseburger, or any other oven-task.
I love the idea of keeping the tactile feedback of the button but using display labeling. The added benefit I see with this concept is that labels won’t rub off, stickers won’t slough off, and the image could glow to be visible in low-light situations.
Image courtesy Gary Anderson.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Provention: A Concert for People, People and the Planet at Fitzgerald Theater
St. Paul, Minn.
September 4 - October 27 with reception: Sept 4 5-8pm
Edina Art Center: 24th Annual Members' Juried Art Exhibition
September 6 at 7:30am
Hope & Hearts Run - Benefiting Missing GRACE Foundation
September 6 & 7 from 1-3pm
Do Archeology! at the Sibley House Historic Site
September 10 at 9pm
Brian Grivna Quartet at Artists' Quarter
St. Paul, Minn.
September 13 from 1-3pm
Art of the River at North Mississippi Regional Park
September 27 & 28
Women's Knitting Retreat at Baker Park Reserve
Twin Cities Events for August 2008