Thursday, April 19, 2007

Quick-change artist

It was to be the highlight of Year 1 at my position.

Seven one-on-one sessions with actual customers over a 3-day period, testing an intermediate iteration of my company's major new product release. Participants had been screened, incentives had been procured, facilities had been reserved and the test plan had been finalized. Everything was ready to go.

Except, as it turns out, the product itself.

Unforeseen development issues pushed back deadlines and left me with a prototype that did not allow for completing any meaningful tasks.

Nobody to blame but myself, of course. I should have had the foresight to (a) insist on a "frozen" set of functionalities in accordance with the particulars of the test plan, and (b) allow for a minimum 2-week buffer between the promised delivery date and the actual testing. Instead, I was too eager to (a) believe that everything would fall into place as scheduled, and (b) put my new Morae software to practical use. In the process, I probably did my role within the company a bit of disservice.

So what then to do?

If my UX studies taught me anything, it's that you never turn down an opportunity to glean direct user input. The opportunities, by and large, are just too few and far between. Fortunately, I was only a few weeks removed from completing a fantastic master's level class on field research methods taught by Meena Kothandaraman, and I drew on much of what she had to say to draw up an alternate plan.

Targeting three product design issues that were never quite addressed to my satisfaction, I turned what were supposed to be usability testing sessions into three-part user research sessions, consisting of the following techniques:
  • a contextual interview, to get insights into the likelihood of acceptance for a proposed functionality;
  • conceptual drawing, to discern patterns of experience and preference for the design of a field mapping tool; and
  • a card sort, to provide an organization solution for a group of functionality options within the product.

While the allotted time did not allow for full investigation into the issues, I got enough to go back to the project managers with preliminary data to be used to guide design decisions for the product's next dot version (the results of the card sort were particularly revealing). From a personal standpoint, I got to practice a few techniques with which I had very little experience.

When life gives you lemons . . .

Hints of things to come

A while back, I brought myself to task for not posting more often. I'd almost like to be able to say I've been up to my neck in User Experience to the point that writing hasn't been possible.

Truth is, I'm in up to my neck in UX, but for reasons other than project work. For some hints, check out the following from Erin Malone and Christina Wodtke.

Monday, April 09, 2007

K-I-S-S, my ass

Does the "Keep It Simple, Stupid" principle have it wrong?

Could be, according to Don Norman, who's been cited numerous times here. His recent article, Simplicity Is Highly Overrated, seems to argue that the K-I-S-S principle should be replaced by something like the K-I-S-B-M-S-I-L-C-E-S-T-I-F-B-A-M-P-D-S Principle:

"Keep It Simple But Make Sure It Looks Complicated Enough So That I'll Feel Better About My Purchasing Decision, Stupid"

The point he wishes to emphasize (located in the addendum) is that "people are not willing to pay for a system that looks simpler, because it looks less capable." In other words, systems that look more complicated seem capable of doing more, which positively effects the desire to purchase.

Josh Porter offers a great summary and commentary in Simplicity: The Ultimate Sophistication. Here's an excerpt:

"When users don't understand the advantages of each feature, such as when a user is buying her first digital camera, they are much more likely to avoid making a trade-off by choosing the feature-laden product . . . When users choose a feature-laden product, they may not be exhibiting a desire for complexity. Instead, users are anxious about predicting their future needs. Norman states it plainly: 'the truth is, simplicity does not sell'."

For UCD practitioners, these could be interpreted as "fightin' words" that run contrary to the principles that guide our profession.

What strikes me, though, is that neither Norman (in his essay) nor Porter (in his commentary) explicitly takes into account the age factor, which will kick in very soon when the aging boomers predominate the purchasing market.

Given the advances of the last few decades, the coming generation of seniors is probably less likely to be intimidated by new technologies. But to what degree will this be offset the various degenerations that inherently accompany aging (cognitive processing, decision-making, motor skills, peripheral vision, etc.)? Does the visibility of extra controls, or an overall high-tech look, carry any weight at all when it comes to forking over their hard-earned retirement allowances?

For these users, simplicity may indeed sell.

I think of my parents (both in their upper 60s), who, when shopping for a new appliance or gizmo, repeat the phrase "All I want to be able to do is . . ." an awful lot and are turned off by anything that they perceive as being beyond their ability to operate. What's more, they have very little motivation to learn, especially if "all I want to do is (watch TV, wash clothes, whatever)." Are they really unique to the coming generation of seniors?

To his great credit, Norman wants only for his essay to be understood, and the addendum does a good job of clarifying his intended point. However, sweeping statements such as those made in the essay cannot be fully understood until all relevant issues are included. In this respect, my humble opinion is that Norman has come up short.