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Resources: UPA 2006 Idea Markets

Playing Usability Limbo: How Low Can You Go?

Activator: Rhiannon Gallagher, Digital Peaks Corp.

Thought Starter Questions

  1. How often do you find yourself ‘signing off’ on projects that you feel are significantly incomplete from a usability perspective?
  2. What tools or techniques do you consider too essential to do without? What constitutes ‘minimal’ involvement’ for you?
  3. How do you communicate your concerns about the usability consequences of a project’s constraints?
  4. Have you had projects launch as ‘usability-approved’ when your contribution was below your minimum standards? How did you handle these launches and their after-effects
  5. Have you ever walked away from a highly constrained project to protect your integrity or reputation?
  6. How have you successfully negotiated for more time, budget, or resources?
  7. How have you convinced the same company or client to give you more time, budget, or resources the next time?

Executive Summary

About eight people came by to discuss the topic, and while we didn’t get to every question, we did come up with some key concepts around the idea of ‘minimal’ usability

Discussion Details

When faced with the “What’s the least you can do?” question, everyone felt it was essential, even in a tight timeframe, to do a little analysis before committing to a plan of action. The analysis, there was agreement, should include:

  • What’s the scope of the project or changes that are being evaluated? Is it too large or too widespread to make use of limited testing?
  • What is the risk if usability problems are found? Is this the flagship product or a minor aspect of a product with low sales?
  • Is it possible for the usability team to have a positive impact on the project, given the constraints?
  • What are the political issues around the project – who are the stakeholders or clients affected? The more important the stakeholder or client, the more high profile your involvement becomes.
  • What is the timing of the project, and how does that timing align with the rest of the things on the usability schedule?

Responses to the analysis vary depending on whether the usability team has the option to turn projects down. Those that do have this option will not take projects that they can’t impact effectively in the timeframe, unless a very important client or stakeholder is involved. Those that can’t turn projects down will scale their usability involvement to fit into the designated boundaries.

There was a wide range of tools and techniques people employed when doing ‘minimal’ usability. The group was split on whether you absolutely had to have real world users to test or whether you could get by with expert review and internal user representatives in a pinch.

Techniques mentioned:

  • Show wireframes for a few key screens to users, so that you can find the key issues in the key areas and have true user feedback.
  • Do ‘Cafeteria’ testing, either internally or at user organizations. Set up a computer in the cafeteria and get some drive-by impressions and informal testing done quickly and affordably. This can also build user interest at client companies.
  • Use client visits to your office. When clients come for meetings with other groups, pull them into the lab and have them do an on-the-spot feedback session. This makes them feel involved and gets real results quickly and painlessly.
  • Conduct an expert review or heuristic, ideally with input from more than usability team member (if you have more than one) that can highlight the key problems you foresee from an expert perspective.
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