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 . . .

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