Just wanted to introduce myself as this is my first posting to the list (I
have been subscribed for a few weeks now). We have been evolving our own
form of scenario- and persona-orientated design for the last year which has
been a big step-change in the way we build our software products. It's been
a fascinating process as we are strong practioners of eXtreme Programming
and our developers are very intelligent (and opinionated) C++ coders. It was
very much a case of "in-mates vs. wardens" prior and even during the
adoption of this process. And, most importantly with regard to this post: We
build thick-client Windows software that is effectively glue-ware between
multiple applications in order to stream-line existing work processes.
Something I'm battling with at the moment is confidence in spending money on
usability testing/HCI courses because I get the feeling that the industry is
very web-focused and we build thick-client Windows applications.
Two experiences on this just to validate my position before I ask my
1. Usability Testing
I decided to conduct a round of usability testing through a 3rd party in
London on an early'ish Beta of our product. It was the first time we've
embarked on such a journey and it was indeed an interesting process.
The few companies I researched (there don't appear to be that many in
London) all had very web-orientated portfolios and seemed very geared up
towards brand, information architecture and harping on about the back button
and other such web-centric considerations.
The testing ended up being very successful from my point of view, just
purely by watching the picture-in-picture footage afterwards. I found the
report, the recommendations and in fact the instructor to be below my
expectations. Some of the reasons for this is that our application
integrates with 1) Microsoft Word, 2) Outlook/Notes/Groupwise and 3)
Enterprise Document Management Systems 4) PDF creation. So it was a lot for
the 3rd party that we used to get their head around, as opposed to
navigating a web site in a single browser interface. So, in retrospect, I
would have preferred to conduct this myself rather than forking out the
money for the 3rd party, but I feel that I would probably lead the user and
make other such mistakes that a professional instructor wouldn't.
Also our software is collaborative in nature and a lot of what I've seen on
usability testing is a single user with an instructor whereas we have
complex tasks that often involve mutiple authors editing documents over a
extended period which is quite difficult to emulate in a typical 45-minute
study. It's also very challenging to recruit users for this as our clients
(expensive lawyers!) aren't really able to provide us with their users as
they are fee-earners and off-the-street recruits generally aren't familiar
with the working environment in a legal firm and the additional 3rd party
software that is involved in our scenarios and tasks.
So I felt I did get some value (perhaps fascination at watching users'
frustration with certain concepts we take for granted), but I'm sure it can
be done in a better way.
I'm interested in attending HFI's new Europe-based course
(http://www.humanfactors.com/training/useroriented.asp), but looking at the
schedule there appears to be a lot of very web-centered modules in there -
such as module 2 which quotes "site design strategy" and "working with brand
objectives" and module 8 - information architecture. So I'm wary of sending
3-4 of my staff on such a course at the risk of their switching off because
its all "web web web".
I understand that usability is usability and that many of the same
principles apply, but I feel that a lot of the web "stuff" (for lack of a
better word - jet lag) is towards presentation of information (site-flow and
so on). Even the "application" aspect of the web seems to be a lot simpler
than some of the challenges we face. I don't mean any disrespect at all by
this statement (that's the last thing I'd do in my first post!), it's merely
an observation from my experiences as I was involved in interactive web
application development for 4 years before I joined my current company.
So my questions... well I'm just really open to commentary and suggestions
on what I've outlined in this email. Perhaps there are more
application-orientated courses I can attend? What are you experiences in the
past with multi-user collaborative-environment usability testing? And so on.
Thanks for your time if you've got this far and I look forward to the
discussion. Please excuse the lack of any response today as I'm just about
to head off to SFO to fly back to London.