Usability in Action

by Tammy Coombs

In last month’s post, Steve Winter discussed the elements of effective user experience design. goBalto uX Designer Tammy Coombs highlights the people aspect of UX design and shares details of a usability visit with a goBalto partner.

Creating a positive user experience can differentiate your business. Part of this is continuous improvement, which includes continuous testing; customer needs, wants, and current trends inevitably change, and the design process should keep pace.

Usability testing is a critical component of the design process. Unfortunately, it’s often underappreciated despite the fact that most designers, developers, and business stakeholders have a decent understanding of what it is. Common issues include an inability to properly implement usability testing, and a lack of recognition of the value usability can add to a product’s ease of use.

When goBalto visited one of our partners to discover how they get their work done, we followed a few simple steps:

  1. Created a test prototype with participatory design. As a starting point, we asked our customer to sort text-based cards representing application components (tools and data), and then allowed them to select and arrange their ideal features. If a feature wasn’t helpful or needed, the customer removed it. This method revealed limitations and assumptions, and provided us with insights into what our partners are looking for in a useful application.
  2. Conducted face-to-face interviews. We met with a several site specialists to understand what they do and what their pain points are. These interviews revealed their attitudes, beliefs, and desires, and allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of their day-to-day work.
  3. Completed a field study. This entailed observing our partners working with our product. Being there in person allowed us to see first-hand, in a real-world environment, how our product was being used. Field studies are helpful since issues may surface that aren’t mentioned during the face-to-face interview, such as workflow problems or other product-based frustrations. This provides a great opportunity for improvement, rather than a wish list of features that a customer may or may not actually need or want.

Why do this type of discovery? For one, it enables us to look beyond what we think we know, and to fully immerse ourselves in the problems we’re trying to solve. It also places actual people in the role of the often-impersonal label of “user.” From beginning to end, it places the focus on people.

Research is paramount to creating effective designs. To understand our customers, we as designers need to learn how they live their work lives. With this knowledge, we can design an unbiased user experience built specifically with them in mind.

About the Author

Tammy Coombs is a User Experience Designer at goBalto, Inc. She has over 10 years of experience integrating user needs, business objectives, and technical capabilities with such brands as HP, Charles Schwab, Wells Fargo, and AAA. Connect with Tammy on LinkedIn.




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