The Insighter

January 2006

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Neo Insight's e-newsletter on Usability topics and techniques.
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Upcoming events

January 19, 2006 Usability challenges of new Web technologies - Neo Insight Workshop
January 26, 2006 Navigating User Interfaces - CapCHI presentation by Dr. Norm Vinson, NRC
February 16, 2006 Designing Usable Online Services - Neo Insight Workshop
April 22-27, 2006 CHI 2006, Montreal QC - Annual conference of the Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction

What focus groups don't tell you

Web sites provide a combination of information, interaction, and rich media. Organizations are still learning how to employ the right mix of techniques to combine these elements to meet user needs. Focus groups are one useful technique, although, they need to be used at the right time to capture the right kind of information.

Focus groups are most effective early in the requirements process, to gather users' stories and experiences, their opinions, and their attitudes. Attitude and opinion help set early design direction. However, attitude and opinion do not always accurately reflect real life behaviour. As an example, Eysenbach & Köhler's 2002 research paper showed - amongst other things - that people's statements in focus groups differed from their actual behaviour when assessing the credibility of Web sites providing health information.

This disconnect is for various psychological and social reasons. In a design process, the problem is that people cannot access or explain their detailed behaviour (sensory-motor and cognitive) when performing a task - think of trying to describe the details of driving from A to B, for example. People will, however, generate post-hoc explanations, and this is another of the dangers of techniques which rely on self-reporting.

To get the task-level data necessary for detailed design decisions requires use of techniques in which user behaviour is observed. Despite common misconceptions, the most cost-effective technique is often Usability Testing. In this technique, users carry out specific tasks with prototype or "live" versions of applications or Web sites. Measures are taken of task performance, error types and rates, amongst others. These quantitative measures can be used to set and monitor performance targets for product acceptance. In our Usability Testing, we also capture high-definition video of the screen, highlighting cursor actions, as well as video of the users. These help communicate the full emotional impact of the user experience to managers or to the development team!

Usability testing also includes collection of qualitative data, such as users' opinions and explanations of their behaviour. Quite often, one day's-worth of Usability Testing (about 6 to 8 users) is enough to identify significant usability issues, and to produce many design change recommendations.

Related resources:


User behaviour changed in 2005

Here's some of the ways we noticed user behaviour changed in 2005. Users were

  • tagging to build their own Information Architectures
  • planning their next iPod accessory
  • just not recording on VHS any more
  • providing news footage with their cellphones
  • worrying less about their email limit or file-size threshold
  • using even more printer paper, ink, and toner
  • experiencing more dynamically-assembled pages
  • entering deep into web sites from a search engine
  • making the term "Home page" meaningless
  • accessing Web sites from cellphones
  • finding more things to do with web Maps
  • flying around GoogleEarth
  • discovering Google is learning how to do video searching well
  • talking about making money on their blog
  • discovering audio - from Internet to iPod - just as satellite radio asks them to pay for it!
  • worrying less about the cost of long-distance telephone calls
  • taking and sending photos from everywhere

Early registration deadline approaches!

Friday January 6 is the last opportunity to sign up for our new course; Usability Challenges of New Web Technologies. On January 19th, learn how Web Services, XML, mobile devices, and other technologies are affecting user needs and behaviour, and how you can apply usability techniques to maintain a focus on user needs and build successful products and services.

If you design or build end-user services with these technologies, you’ll need to hear about the latest usability techniques. Neo Insight’s new course, Usability challenges of new Web technologies takes place on January 19. On this highly interactive course, you will learn:

 - How to separate and understand enduring human needs versus changing human expectations and behaviour, and how to use this to guide your design and development

 - How fundamental user-centred principles such as providing affordance at the point of need can help generate innovation and maintain a focus on your clients’ priorities

- How quick and simple techniques, such as “Stress tests” and “Cognitive walkthroughs,” can provide rapid and inexpensive feedback on user issues

- How to apply usage-centred design techniques to manage technological advances that impact user behaviour


Quote of the month

"A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila."
Mitch Ratliffe


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