User Experience Magazine: Volume 7, Issue 2, 2008
Feature Articles: Usability in Healthcare
A major difference between usability in the sense of functionality and usability in the sense of creating things that are, in fact, used, has a lot to do with people’s expectations. In fact, the failure to manage expectations is at least as big a culprit as failure to make products with practical usage profiles. Expectations don’t just define people’s approach to usage, they help define the experience itself. Effective usability research should have an expectation component to it – something that takes into account peoples’ expectations regarding a subject product or service and their perceptions of what is actually delivered. Armed with that information, sponsor companies can find ways to manage the promise of the subject item such that peoples’ expectations and experiences align – doing so can yield products that are perceived to be more useful and, eventually more satisfying when they are used.
As large-scale consumer-focused companies and interactive web design agencies continue making efforts to close the divide between market research and user experience research, usability professionals must employ new methods for learning about consumers and new ways to blend research techniques across disciplines. This article focuses on a multi-method approach to measure the quality of web initiatives that blends techniques of traditional market researchers and usability professionals.
Six months after the release of their social networking site, startup company Spout had many questions as they planned the evolution of the site—they wanted to learn how useful their target audience found the site, and why. Spout engaged a neutral research partner, Tec-Ed, to help them understand how users interact with spout.com.
After meetings with key stakeholders, Tec-Ed proposed conducting qualitative usability testing twice a year, each followed by quantitative research to address questions that emerged from the qualitative research results. For the qualitative usability testing, we focused on questions that would be best answered by observing hands-on use:
- What features do visitors use on spout.com, and why?
- What is people’s impression of the “community” aspect of spout.com?
- What would encourage visitors to register?
- Why would people write a movie review?
For the quantitative research, Spout wanted to focus on initial user reactions to a new site landing page, an updated one-minute tour, and a new MovieMind tool that helped people select movies. This article describes the methodology for both the qualitative and quantitative research, and summarizes the findings.
Overall, the quantitative research confirmed that Spout had addressed the usability test participants’ concerns. It also validated Spout’s approach to encouraging first-time visitors to join the community.
Spout’s research program was unusual because many startups don’t yet understand the value of user research. However, it was similar to other integrated research projects Tec‑Ed has performed recently, where we consider such issues as:
- Deciding which method to use first
- Defining and implementing participant screening criteria that work for both methods.
- Choosing what research questions should be addressed in which phase of the research
This article illustrates how well smaller organizations can benefit from conducting integrated qualitative and quantitative research.
When I joined a major American bank’s online banking division in 2003, user research and market research sat in different areas of the Internet Services Group (ISG). Occasionally we would present our work at one another’s team meetings but, in general, we didn’t coordinate our studies or have a good idea about what the other group was doing. In 2005, ISG reorganized and market research and user research teams were brought together under the umbrella of Customer Experience Research & Design (CERD). This shuffling made sense on many levels because now we could benefit and influence each other’s research and help our clients in ISG make better decisions based on a more holistic view of the customer. The advantages of integrating market and user research far outweigh the challenges, but we must grapple with challenges as market and user research strive to deliver integrated insight.
The term architecture has been used throughout the computing profession for decades. In the context of both hardware and software design, system architects are accustomed to working with diagrams that communicate the structure and style of a system. What diagrams might contribute to the architecture of user experience? How would such diagrams improve the design of user experiences? How would such diagrams improve the communication of these designs to other functions in the development organization? This article proposes a diagrammatic approach to communicating portions of the architecture of user experience. In addition to providing a syntax of the diagrammatic elements, the article describes how experience diagrams are applied to specific personas’ key experiences, as well as how these diagrams are applied to scenarios.
Stories are motivating and memorable. They motivate because they tie in with the structures of our social life. They tend to be memorable because they fit well with the way human memory works. There is a growing rekindling of interest in the use of stories in many professions, including those concerned with usability.
However, all too often usability professionals who use story fail to take full advantage of their power. Stories (as scenarios) are often used only during “storyboarding.” Instead, the power of stories can be brought to bear throughout the development process. For instance, eliciting stories from potential users can lead to a deeper understanding of unmet needs and contexts of use. Stories can also serve a useful function in helping users understand how and when to use a product or service. In addition, stories of use are an excellent way of communicating issues back to development for future releases or alternative products.
The desire to use stories, however, is not sufficient for their effective use. This article gives practical guidelines to help make stories more valuable.