Usability and User eXperience have become buzzwords in recent years, almost as a mantra for all that’s good or bad in design. But, as you probably know things are seldom as simple or black-and-white when trying to make your product appealing, easy-to-use or easy to learn, and the measurement and assessment of the same.
I’m talking specifically about IT, including software, apps and the web, but the same principles apply in any designed and human-made product or service. Why wouldn’t you want something you produce or operate to be usable?
Also, in the race to create something new and jargony (Ed. not a real word) there are many confusing overlapping terms and disciplines.
- Usability Engineering and Usability Testing
- User Interface UI design
- Customer eXperience
- Customer Experience Management CEM
- Customer Satisfaction
- Personalisation and Customisation
This introductory module will explore some of this terminology and gives some tips on general approaches and specific criteria to understand usability.
Context – it’s all about the Users
There are a lot of User-related activities in a typical project life-cycle – see separate IT element. Before designing and creating something you would typically want to:
* Know who your Users are (actual or prospects), what motivates and interests them, their skills, knowledge and behaviour with respect to what you want them to use or buy
And then as the project progresses, where practical:
* Involve real [End] Users or encourage a User perspective throughout the whole process, from conception to design, to development and testing
First, a definition
Usability, or rather the objectives of usability, are defined variously as:
- Ease of use
- [Giving] Satisfaction
Unfortunately as criteria these are very woolly and would need to be qualified or quantified to be of any use as measures, both for setting targets and determining progress towards an objective level of learnability or satisfaction, say.
If it moves measure it!
There are probably a broader set of Key Performance Indicators or KPIs in your organisation that set targets for sales, costs, profits, service standards etc. but let us imagine for now the human impact of a User interacting with your product or service through a User Interface, that is, a webpage or app, in fact any piece of software.
With a bit of creativity we can determine what ‘good’ looks and feels like to a user, leading to a successful outcome, yours and theirs! Here are some things that you might want to measure. I’m assuming that your Customer or consumer can find you and your products…Search Engine Optimisation SEO is covered separately.
- What is the drop-off or fall-out rates, i.e. number of incomplete transactions and other barriers to conversion. This is not a trivial exercise, it could touch on all aspects of design, the complexity of the process, speed and performance etc.
- What feedback and comments are received, although be wary of negative bias. This should include social media engagement (good and bad), discussion forums, help queries etc.
- Is there appropriate feedback to the user on their actions and overall progress, including expected and unexpected outcomes.
- A specific category of usage tries to determine how intuitive or easy-to-learn your product or service is.
Traditionally this has been the realm of marketers using focus groups, questionnaires, prototypes and controlled alpha and beta trials, simple observation techniques and more sophisticated eye tracking and hot spot analyses, for example – all valuable evidence of real user experience that can be gathered before that big launch onto the street. The industry standard is increasingly set by the mobile phone and smart device producers where everything just works out of the box…so there is no expectation that the user will read the manual or has any prior product or domain knowledge. Throwing a complete novice or technophobe at your lovingly crafted app. could be the bravest and most fruitful test of all!
- And all the above for different Customer segments, generational groups, touchpoints (in a product or service fulfilment lifecycle), channels and devices.
These measures can become benchmark data to be compared with industry standards, your competitors, market research, or your own body of evidence.
It’s worth mentioning accessibility here. This is used specifically on the web to mean availability and usability for those with particularly disabilities. In this post I explain what this means and make the case for a more general definition.
It’s all in about design isn’t it?
Well, yes and no.
Design is paramount. But equally you still need to pay attention to the other good stuff; knowing who you Users are (that you are trying to please, satisfy, keep coming back for more); knowing your market; understanding the functional and other requirements; thorough testing; ongoing maintenance.
Back to design. Designing for the web – essentially the User Interface – is a big subject in its own right, although it can be more fluid, fast-changing and solution-oriented than the other disciplines in the previous paragraph. Here is an infographic of some of trends in 2016.
Good design should pay attention to the overall page layout, use of white space, navigation aids, keyboard short-cuts, use of colour, images and multimedia elements as appropriate. When these all act together they can enhance the User Experience, or conversely lose your valuable prospect in the 15 seconds* that you have their attention to them on your website. Also, finally on this subject – i’m merely scratching the surface of course – don’t forget the words (content), the marketing messages and calls-to-action, the need to deliver your compelling proposition above all others.
More jargon explained
I promised to explain some of the other terms that you might come across. Here is my simple take on a few, with apologies to experts in any of these fields!
Usability Testing – a subset of all other testing, specifically of the Usability non-functional requirements and the quantitative and qualitative measures of success and Customer Satisfaction.
Customer eXperience – I mentioned Customer touchpoints earlier. Aside from the online sale/conversion process, or wherever you focus most attention and resources, also think about other aspects of the Customer’s journey and all the places and ways that they physically or virtually ‘touch’ your world, including for example:
- Offline contact where it exists, e.g. email, phone and text, Not to mention the quality and consistency of your delivery or fulfilment partner services.
- Pre- and post-sales activities
- Inbound and outbound marketing
- Social media channels
Customer Experience Management (CEM) – The addition of management is more concerned with the ongoing operational processes, building mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of what you are doing and continual refinement and improvement of your products and services. Project and change activities should adopt UX and CX best practices, but designers, UI and marketing experts are key to sustainable learning.
Personalisation and Customisation – these are the holy grail of usability, tailoring the product or service to an individuals wants and needs – or at least the illusion of a direct personal connection. For example, mining data from past buying behaviour, using enhanced profiling data captured about gender, age, location, hobbies and interests, say. Again Social Media channels help, both as a marketing tool and in building up a richer picture of your Customer’s attitudes, perceptions, even offering hints about their future buying decisions and desired features and offerings.
Usability Engineering – adding the word ‘engineering’ (Software Engineering, Requirements Engineering) conveys a certain cachet, a suggestion of a more disciplined rigorous approach. However, in all things it’s less about what you call it; actions count, and you will be found out if you skimp on usability. A worse sin is thinking that you somehow know better than your Users what they think and what they want…remember it’s their experience that matters, the clue is in the name, Usability is User Experience.
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