This week we are featuring Dana Chisnell, who will be speaking at this years 2011 MIMA Summit, October 12th.Â She is an indeÂpenÂdent researcher curÂrently workÂing on usable secuÂrity and research methÂods for social media usabilÂity.Â You can find Dana on twitter @danachis.
What do you think are the most interesting changes happening in usability today?
There are a few interesting developments going on in usability these days. First, more and more organizations are beginning to understand that features only take them so far. Theyâre starting to see that expectations are higher than lots of features that work adequately. Now, organizations are looking to unify the customer experience across all channels. Toning down the business speak, itâs about having the best possible interaction with the customer at every possible touch point.
To get there, teams are sharing responsibility for doing user research. It is becoming less likely that there will be one person responsible for doing all of the usability testing. Instead, designers and developers get skills for interviewing, moderating, and observing people using designs. I think this is excellent. The more present the user is in the heads of the designers and developers, the better the experiences will be.
In terms of tools and techniques, I see a lot of teams embracing remote usability testing. They want to get a broader view of the user base, which is good. The technology for doing remote usability testing is very good and very inexpensive now. If you havenât done remote usability testing, the concept is simple. Rather than bringing people into a lab setup, you connect with participants online through a screen sharing tool like GoTo Meeting or WebEx (there are lots of others out there, too), and a voice connection of some kind. This way, you can see whatâs going on with the userâs screen and you can get lots of verbal feedback and interaction. You can take it up a notch if you and the participant have web cams. In that case, you can see each other and the screen — not so different from sitting next to each other in the same room.
Now, some teams would like to just let usability testing run itself by doing âremote unmoderated usability testsâ. I think this is one of the worst ideas to come along in a while. The whole point of usability testing and user research is to *observe* people using a design. When you conduct unmoderated testing, you have to rely on what participants *tell* you with no opportunity for follow-up questions. There are people who do beautiful unmoderated studies, but a) they do live observation and other data gathering methods as well, b) they spend a lot of time and energy designing the study and piloting it to get out of it what they need, c) they never do unmoderated testing before other methods.
Otherwise, I think we need a Reformation of usability testing. This is what my talk at MIMA will be about in October. The classical model of usability testing — setting up a controlled situation with one participant and one design, where the participant is performing set tasks — is not serving design very well. Â Tasks arenât what they used to be. Testing doesnât scale: the usability testing methodology was created when user populations were much smaller and were likely to get training. There was no mobile or social. Satisfaction was fine, because the best we could do is eliminate frustration. But users expect much more than not sucking, and thereâs enough competition in most sectors that itâs easy for users to go where they have a better experience.
One place we get stuck, is we only know how to test for what we know about. But then designs hit the market and all these apparently unpredictable things happen. Weâve got to figure out how to test for things we donât know about. We have to create a larger set of techniques taken from other practices that we donât pay much attention to right now to do a better job with user research and usability testing. I can see a day when we do very little classical summative usability testing and when most of the âtestingâ that is being done combines pieces of lots of different methods.
From design to launch, what organization do you think does usability really well? and why?
Two of my favorite web-based organizations are Netflix and Zipcar. At every point, the experience is superlative in both cases. I donât know a lot about the inner workings of Zipcar, but Netflix has always done tons of user research, lots of prototyping, and heaps of testing of designs.
Marriott also gives amazing customer experience, and I know for a fact that the Marriott.com team lives and breathes usability. Most of the hotel reservations on the book for Marriott come through www.marriott.com, so it is crucial to the entire business that there be no obstacles to purchase, of course. But beyond that, Marriott as an organization has a vision and a belief system around what they want the customer experience to be — from the web site to checking out of the hotel (and beyond) — and they work very hard to ensure that the experience is excellent.
What is the most common usability mistake you see over and over?
Not involving everyone who has a stake in the design in the user research and usability testing. Everyone. When everyone involved in a design, from the CEO to the QA testers, know who users are, what they do with designs, and why, the business works better, and the infrastructure can seem less constraining. If you want users to love your design, fall in love with your users. Know them. Be able to tell stories about real people using your designs.
Next, is rushing. Everyone needs to ship. I get that, but there are times when it pays to get the design right (or closer to right) rather than shipping right now. Thereâs always a cost to rushing and it almost always shows up in the call center when customers start phoning or emailing that something doesnât work the way they expected to. If that money and time were redirected to user research and usability testing, the organization would be healthier and the customers would be happier.
Ah, but I suppose you want to know about usability mistakes in user interface designs. I guess Iâd have to say the biggest usability mistake is copying designs or elements of designs from other products or services without thinking about whether its appropriate or not. Amazon does mega menus, everybody does mega menus. (By the way, they didnât work for Amazon, so they took them down, but you still see mega menus on other sites all over the place.) Â Usability is behavioral. So, you have to know how users behave and how they want to interact with your designs.
What is next in the digital decade?
Thereâs a lot of talk about designing for delight. Delight is nice, but itâs thin. And, done the wrong way, or at the wrong time, or too much, and it gets annoying. Iâm thinking that we all need to look a bit deeper. If you were to personally carry out this transaction with the customer, what would you want that to be like? If you were to design the perfect day for your user, where would your product or service fit into that day — how would that product or service make the day perfect?
I have a theory that the next stage is to be looking at getting beyond eliminating frustration to creating experiences that are truly pleasurable, put users in a state of flow, or emphasize purpose and meaning. And this is part of that Reformation I mentioned above. Designing in the framework Iâm thinking of — pleasure, flow, and meaning — will take much different skills and thinking from what you get from the usual psychology, human factors, or human-computer interaction program. We user experience designers are going to have to learn about behavioral economics, linguistics, network theory, anthropology, and sociology, among other disciplines and practices, to do a better job of designing than just creating a satisfactory interaction.
Hear Dana and other great speakers at the MIMA Summit
Follow Dana on twitter @danachis
A special thanks to Jill Gutterman, a MIMA board member, for hosting this interview. Jill, is a Director of Interactive Marketing at Rasmussen College and a MIMA Board Director. Jill Guttermanâs philosophy in life is simple: Have passion for what you do and keep learning. Itâs this philosophy that has been a driving force behind Jillâs forward-thinking 12 year professional career in digital marketing. Jill graduated magna cum laude from Wright State University, in Dayton, OH with a degree in psychology.