Monday, 12 July 2004

Usability Not Usable? – Part 2

“People are usually not receptive to a newcomer waltzing in and telling them they’ve been doing their jobs wrong.”

Usability departments exist in a number of our client organizations. Unfortunately, their organizational structural frequently instills an adversarial relationship between the project teams and usability group. The usability group is considered an outside agency – ony evaluating ‘ready for prime time’ work.

This relationship places the usability professional in the lose-lose position of telling the project team their baby is ugly.

Here are 3 tips for making this process more valuable for everyone:

  1. Invite everyone in all the project meetings from the start. This includes developers, usability professionals, project sponsors, clients, and even a customer or two. (and make the meetings working meetings)
  2. Evaluate early and often. The earlier in the project customer insight is captured, the more valuable is it to the project (and the customer). The project is less malleable as time progresses, more decisions (good & bad) have been made, more constraints exist. Everyone learns from early evaluation.
  3. Create, don’t just destroy. Usability evalutions are most valuable and insightful when participants are offered alternatives to compare. Perhaps alternatives don’t exist for the initial evaluation session, but they surely exist for each additional. To make the most of the evaluations the learnings from each session to the next participant in the form of a rough prototype.

The quote beginning this post is from from Ester Derby’s article Change that Fits. Her story describes a recently-fired software development quality engineer. Usability professionals should heed warning.

Tuesday, 29 June 2004

Usability Not Usable? Part 1

Conventional wisdom states that websites and other new products should be evaluated with non-tech savvy participants. With 63% of American adults accessing the Internet regularly, 83% of teens, and 20% of adults actively avoiding the online world we are a nation of tech-savvy or tech-avoidant. Conventional recruiting strategies not longer apply.

Rather than pursue an audience that is actively avoiding technology, we recommend iteratively evaluating new products with the expert customers – the professional amateurs. Professional Amateurs have done the competitve research, they know what works for them, and best of all – they’re passionate and articulate.

Benchmarking and evaluting with a novice customer-base provide a rear-view mirror description of where your competitors were. The key to surpassing the competition in the technically sophisticated landscape described above is listening to the needs of your professional amateurs – those customers engaging with your products on a daily basis. By paying close attention to their needs, opportunities will be obvious. As an added benefit, it will only strengthen your relationship with them.