User experience architecture

August 9, 2008

Data good; findings better

Filed under: evaluation — Tags: , , , , , — uxarchitecture @ 11:06 am

I get to read a lot of usability studies. Some are insightful and persuasive, clearly communicating the main issues and inviting action. Others contain indigestible inventories of raw data. Here are some examples:

  • a long list of specific errors;
  • an exhaustive set of annotated screen shots; or
  • a table of design problems grouped by page.

A heuristic evaluation can generate hundreds of expert comments. Likewise, a skilled observer can capture many subtle observations by analysing the video from a usability study. Data is good – but data is exactly what it is, the raw material from which a skilled analyst extracts findings.

Here’s what clients tell me they want to know.

  1. How well does it work?
  2. What are the major problems?
  3. What’s the impact on my users and my business
  4. What do I need to do to fix it?
  5. How can my design team learn from this?
  6. How do I know you’ve done thorough and impartial work?

The missing step in these “briefcase buster” reports is analysis. A usability practitioner needs the ability to mine hundreds of data points to extract the one or two pages of insight that truly answer the client’s questions. There are many methods including; shuffle-the-post-it, qualitative analysis and mapping to guidelines. Here’s a route-map.

  1. Analyse data to create findings. A finding describes a pervasive issue: the graphic design is primitive; the actions do not match the user’s task model; terminology is arcane and inconsistent.
  2. Support findings with selected data. This demonstrates rigor, illustrates abstract ideas with concrete examples and adds emotional impact.
  3. Describe the specific impact on the business: higher learning costs; lower adoption; brand damage; reduced sales.
  4. Recommend design changes: follow the Windows style guide for radio button behaviour; do not use a fixed font size; describe business processes in plain English.
  5. Recommend tools and methods improvements: consider using a professional graphic designer; construct a task model before designing screens; read the Polar Bear book.

Good findings should be high level, clear, business-focused and actionable. Above all, to paraphrase the good Doctor, “Speak the client’s language” To us it’s a research project, to them it’s an investment.

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