Monday, June 4, 2012

Testing Your Design

You have your prototype at hand or maybe your mockup product. What now?

You might want to test it, and no, I don’t mean test it only by yourself! You want to test your prototype with people. Yes, actual people. And, no, not only yourself!

What’s the fuss about testing with people?

If you want to know how well is your design. People are your answer. If you want to know if it actually works, then again people are also your answer. If you want to know if people are going to swear or giggle when using it, then again people are your answer.

We can’t always predict how people will react to our design. In fact, while designing, we think we are geniuses and think that it is so easy and simple that people will use it in no time. People will not have a problem. People will understand it. People will get it right. That’s what we think.

Reality, however, is far from our imagination.

Let me walk you through a simple example. How many of you have used the ATM machine? I am guessing plenty. Okay, let us take it from here.

What do you do to withdraw cash from the ATM machine?
  1. You slide in your card.
  2. You enter your pin.
  3. You specify the amount of withdrawal.
  4. You press enter. 
How does the ATM machine respond?
  1. Gives you the receipt.
  2. Slides back your card.
  3. Shows up your money. 
Now, think about it. Why did the ATM machine respond in that order?

That is not random.

It turns out that when money showed up first, most people tended to forget to take back their cards not to mention the receipt. After all, they came all the way to the ATM machine to withdraw some money. They got it. They left. Ops. The card is gone!

The question is now, as a designer, would have you really thought of this issue? Or, did it arise when you witnessed people walking away from the ATM machines without their receipts and cards?

That’s why you have to involve the people. Interactive design requires people. Design is for people. Never forget them.

But then, how are you going to test those designs?

Don’t sweat it. There are tremendous amounts of ways. Your task though is to choose the right one to test whatever you want to test.

Some tests are formal while others are informal. You have to be careful in that because the results will vary.

Informal evaluation will get you the real deal.

Formal evaluation will get you better results; in the sense that people know how to use your product. Why is that? People in formal evaluations tend to think that they are tested for real. If they didn’t do it right, then they are incompetent so they try harder to get it right.

However, know this as the rule:

If a user doesn’t know how to use it, it is not his/her fault. It is your fault. Yes, it is the designer’s fault. It only means that you screwed up the job. It is never the user’s fault.

What are some of the techniques that you might use?

  1. Observation: It is powerful. It shows you how the user is going to think. It will reveal paths you never knew the user will navigate. It will show satisfaction. It will show frustration. Use it if you can but be careful though. If people know they are tested, it will affect their behavior. They will try harder to get it right and if they couldn’t get it right they might be more frustrated than the usual.
  2. Surveys: They are easy to structure, distribute and collect. Not the best option though for usability. Why is that? There is a difference between what people say they are going to do or think what they are going to do and what they actually are going to do. Could you recall the last time you decided to eat healthy and ended up with God knows what in your plate because it is so damn delicious?
  3. Focus Groups: A bunch of people gathered to discuss an idea. It’s a double edged sword, so be careful. Colleagues may tease your idea and challenge the thoughts to come up with something better while other's may prefer to remain quiet and be polite about their opinions concealing the real deal. It might be fun and most of the time it is very useful.
  4. Experts Feedback: They have done it lots and lots of times. They have been through it. They tasted the bitterness and the sweetness of it. It could start as “Dog Fooding” or you testing it yourself (tasting your own medicine), peer critique or heuristic evaluation where the design is evaluated against usability principles by professional evaluators.
  5. Comparative Experiments: You will have two more distinct options to be compared against each other. The difference here is that you are evaluating more than one design in contrast to just evaluating the effectiveness of the one and only. It could be done in the lab, the field or online.
  6. Stimulation and Formal Models: Results could be simulated by different inputs and combinations using software. It could be very handy when trying to test options, clicks or navigation paths to be taken. 
Now that you know the different techniques, how are you going to choose your best method(s)?

You have to do your homework. You need to weigh things out. You need to figure out what do you want the most?

Is it
  • Reliability?
  • Precision?
  • Generalizability?
  • Realism
  • Comparison?
  • Work Involved?
  • Availability?
  • Continuity?
  • Adaptability? 
There is no one absolute right answer or method. It all depends on one thing: What do you want people to do with your design? Walk away? Stay close? Come again? Or, never look back?

 Image Credits to: DigitalArt

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