Improving UX on the Cheap
Digital Innovation Gazette: UI/UX
By John Moore for Digital Innovation Gazette
Being an app developer is a lot like being a parent: You never want to hear that you have an ugly baby.
But in the case of the developer, a bit of criticism can lead to improvement. App builders can avoid a lot of pain down the road if the bad news comes early enough in the software lifecycle. Smaller shops and individual developers can test early iterations of their apps on users, and the resulting feedback can inform subsequent versions that win over customers.
Usability testing is one technique for flagging dire problems before an app is unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Usability testing provides a snapshot of a user’s initial reaction to an app, while other methods may be employed to track longer-term usage.
Testing requires planning and the ability to craft focused and probing questions. As for monetary investment, tests don’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of low-cost DIY affairs, and even those involving an outside testing firm need not break the bank.
Usability testing can help developers unearth some scary app-killing deficiencies. “Usability testing is a wonderful, powerful research technique that finds the big hitters, the big problems that will shatter the user experience,” says Gavin Lew, managing director of User Centric Inc., a user experience research and design firm based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
Developers should quickly build a simulator that users can test as opposed to taking the time to create a “gorgeous prototype,” suggests Lew. The objective is to focus on a handful of core app functions that naive users can interact with and put through their paces. Users may stumble on some features and find that others work well. The resulting feedback should help guide subsequent app iterations.
“Usability testing and the interactive design process are all about making mistakes faster,” says Lew. And fortunately, the user test population doesn’t have to be enormous to obtain actionable results.
Blink Interactive Inc., a user experience research and design firm in Seattle, Wash., recommends having eight to 10 users for simple studies, says Tom Satwicz, user researcher at Blink, on the company’s blog.
Developers that are concerned with focus group size -- and, more to the point, cost -- can use Blink’s usability sample size calculator to get an idea of what to expect. The calculator lets developers adjust such factors as the number of user groups to be compared (e.g., novice and expert users) and the number of designs to be compared, for example.
Lew, meanwhile, says seven participants will work for a usability test. With usability testing -- also called formative or iterative user research -- major issues that unravel the user experience tend to manifest quickly and often, he notes. “So, if a user can test these two to three features in a 60-minute, one-on-one usability testing session -- without introducing undue bias from the feature use -- pragmatically speaking, seven participants is sufficient,” says Lew.