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avoiding user testing too late, some challenges

The classic usability complaint is that projects just tack a usability test on at the end of development when it is too late to make any changes. Which leaves the usability consultant in the uneviable position of having to tell the project team that their product doesn’t work, when they can’t do anything about it.  It can feel like a waste of time and money.

In reality these sessions are rarely entirely useless and I’d prefer to run them rather than having nothing at all. A lot of feedback is often about content which can usually be changed at the last minute.  You can also capture general customer research insights that can feed into the next project.

A couple of projects I’ve got involved with recently have involved late stage usability testing . We need to tackle this but we’ve got some bigger challenges than usual in bringing in a better approach to usability testing.

1. The organisation can’t afford rounds of testing

This is hardly unique to us and I fully expected this when I took the job. The answer usually involves the word “guerrilla” at some point.

2. We have some challenges in doing guerrilla testing

Our target audience (blind and partially sighted people)  is a small section of the population and can’t easily be found by popping into libraries and coffee shops. Everybody else really isn’t representative and would give completely different results. Although admittedly our target audience can often be found in our own offices, or rather in the public resource centre downstairs. But you can’t just get them to test on your laptop as you need to have the access tech that they are used to using. We might need to try and find folks who are both willing to test and also use the access tech we have available. Not insurmountable problems, but will take a bit of planning.

3. Can’t easily do paper-based testing or flat onscreen mock-ups.

I’ve mentioned this particular challenge before. We can survey and interview quite easily. We can test existing or competitor systems. But when it comes to trying out how well new designs are working, our options get a lot fewer. Whilst it would be interesting to experiment with tactile mock-ups, the admin overheads and learning curve probably aren’t justified.  Really we should just concentrate on working prototypes, rather than getting carried away with how cool an IA presentation idea “tactile wireframes” is.

Written by Karen

August 6th, 2010 at 6:09 am

Posted in accessibility,rnib,ucd