User Research and Testing
Knowing your customer is paramount...At every stage of the process. User research is applicable at many stages of program development. It all starts with a meaningful conversation. Asking the right questions is step 1...Understanding "why" is they key. Whether defining an evolutionary next step or a revolutionary change and innovation, conversation opens the door to discovery.
Understanding the Baseline
All projects require a basic understanding of the concept or premise. Evolutionary ideas use existing data as the baseline or springboard for concept development. Revolutionary ideas start with existing data and then push beyond to discover what is missing from the user experience via alternative means of discovery. Both approaches try to define and address unmet user needs.
Research conducted on site and in context helps to better understand realities. Observation of users in their natural context will often uncover the difference in them answering a question based on "book knowledge" or accepted practices vs. seeing what they actually do in real time. Understanding user workflows and actual use patterns creates the opportunity to identify unmet needs and more fully understand contextual use.
Mapping step by step processes and "A Day in the Life" scenarios defines contextual use and often illustrates opportunities for improvement to the user experience.
GUI development requires multiple rounds of user testing to ensure that designed work flows and sequences are understandable and efficient for users, and that they match expectations. Simulations done via mocked up software tested on appearance models can simulate real world contexts and identify issues early in development. Iterative testing is the key to improvement.
Each round of testing focuses on new issues and updates and improves upon previous issues. Tracking and analysis of changes to workflows and features is important to identify user motivations and to meet user needs.
Ask the Customer...
User research is not simply a matter of preference testing to discover what a customer "likes". Deeper dives and discussions with customers can identify bigger issues and allow you to re-focus on a target sooner. When testing appearance and GUI concepts with customers in this instance, we discovered a customer disconnect between quality and cost of goods. As a result, we course-corrected and explored methods to elevate the perception of quality early on in the process.
The preferred method for ensuring usability is to test actual users on a working system. At early stages, this can be a challenge, so alternative methods are used. Some alternative methods include user testing on system prototypes, a usability audit conducted by experts, and cognitive modeling. Iterative testing and modeling is key.
User testing can be performed in several ways. Formal user testing ideally limits the participants in the process in the room with the user to limit distractions and stage fright. In-house testing can be used at early stages to uncover issues, and to allow more team members to participate and observe. Use of photo, video, audio and note-taking documentation are key to capturing insights and observations.
What users say and what they do can be on opposite ends of the spectrum. Firsthand observation and allowing the user to struggle during a test is the best way to understand the effectiveness of your solution.