There’s often a gulf between ‘the design people’ and ‘the technical people’. Eurgh! Such a stupid split – it shouldn’t be encouraged at all!

Its so gratifying when we’ve had some Devs sign up to observe usability sessions – from the comfort of their own desk, using the Morae Remote Viewer (now Observer) software. Then, I come up to them afterwards and ask for their insights. Its fabulous since they are often wide-eyed and amazed, having seen ‘real people’ using the software.

So I’d recommend formally, sweetly inviting devs to sign up – make it low-commitment – all they need to do is watch remotely and they can work on other things at the same time if they want to. Then politely asking for their insights.

We’ve had good results with this. The value of the devs understanding the usability process is perhaps greater in the long run than the specific insights they get from watching a single session. That’s fine – the point is to enrich the team as a whole, so we can function better. It is good for designers to have devs who are appreciative and supportive of their side of things, and vice versa.

Ugly Personas I

May 10, 2007

Personas that are cliche’s, stereotypes or one-dimensional are UGLY.

Watch their breathing

April 26, 2007

When watching the participant use the website, try this:

Follow their breathing.

When it is held….

This may indicate they are focusing hard, are momentarily stuck.

When they let out a sigh

This may indicate they have found what they’re looking for.

So maybe the participant in the usability lab has hit a wall. Can’t find the way to do X.

Let them stew for a little while. Say, the space of a few breaths.

They’ve stewed, and still can’t find it.

Now, help them out gradually. Don’t just tell them where it is.

Give them a hint.

Something like: in iTunes, how do you make a song play?

Not like: what do you think that button marked play does?

They can salvage some dignity out of the first hint, but the second one makes them (or you) look like an idiot. Also you loose the chance for more insights into their thinking by just jumping to the punchline.

Lets say they still can’t find it.

Give a bigger hint like : which one of the controls at the bottom of the screen will make the song play?

They still don’t get it.

If you feel their confusion may be typical of your primary persona, then it is probably worth exploring – so do the full out rescue.

Ask mildly “what are you trying to do?”

This may help focus their mind on the task, and as they explain it to you, you can see if they have

a) understood the task or not

b) understood what you want them to do, but have a notably different idea of whats going on.

As they describe the task to you, they may spontaneously recognize their error, and see what they need to do.

Even after this, if they don’t know how to proceed, then you may tell them how to do it. Try phrasing it like it really isn’t so obvious (which obviously it isn’t). Act like its no big deal. Then move on.

Wait – dont rescue!

April 12, 2007

Wait, don’t rescue a participant in a usability session when they can’t activate widget x.  Wait calmly, no impatience, no anxiety.

‘I can’t find it.  I don’t know where that is…’ she says.

You respond with silence.

She looks round at you, ‘I don’t know how to get it to play’.

‘You don’t know how to get it to play?’ you say mildly.

‘No.’  She is fidgeting the cursor around the screen.  She clicks on the button marked Play! and the widget activates into a song and dance.  ‘Oh, that’s it.  Its going now.  That was hard to find.’

‘That was hard to find?’ you say mildly

‘Yes, because I thought I had already clicked on it, and it did nothing.  I mean, now I see how it works its kinda obvious, but before, it was really hard’.

This way, without rescuing them, you learn a lot:

– The Play! button is hard to aquire (she thought she had clicked on it, but had slightly missed it, since the icon is tiny)

– The Play! button does, however, make sense as a place to click initially (which is important for first time users) and also it makes sense in hindsight (which is important for non first time users).

– There is inadequate onscreen guidance for this person.

– etc…

If you succumbed to the temptation to rescue her when she first said she couldn’t do it, you wouldn’t have learned so much with such little effort.


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