Usability – the thing everyone has to deal with. Users surf websites pages, check-in at a cafe using a mobile app or type text on a removable qwerty-keyboard for notepads – all these products were tested for usability to make them better.
I’d like to present a kind of review – a little introduction to usability. With examples from DataArt practice that I have had a hand in. :)
What usability is and how could a software owner improve the quality of his product?
Ease and a comfort of use, an attractive appearance, the ability to quickly and conveniently solve goals – that’s what we call Usability.
If a client has the opportunity to choose, he’ll use the product that appeals to him the most. Less buttons, roll-out menus, big pictures, easy reposting – just a few things that could change their decision in favor of your app/site (and earn you much more money, naturally). In order to become popular, software has to be simple and usable, effective and efficient, with a user-friendly interface.
Together with security or QA assurance testing, a usability review is an important stage of before launch product testing.
To identify basic user needs and expectations during the first stage of product development you need an Exploratory (Formative) testing. It’s like asking a new girlfriend about her preferences on the first date – make a note, buddy, it will help you later.
To understand what usability issues are present in your product you need Assessment (Summative) testing. You’ve got a girlfriend, but don’t know what makes her happy and why does she sometimes get annoyed (we know the answer, but…)?
For checking issues that had already been resolved, try Validation (Verification) testing. Do you really need another example about you and your girlfriend?
Need to compare different solutions or user interface (UI) design concepts – ask for a Comparison test. It’s like comparing yourself with your girl’s previous boyfriends to make yourself better.
From theory to practice
Apart from client application usability testing, we also work on our internal products.
About 15 years ago we started using an internal time tracking system based called PM (Project Management).
As years passed by the system became more and more complicated. Even the most experienced colleagues were not sure how to change the name of a project in Timesheets or where to find information about another employee. When it became obvious that the time tracking system had changed from being a useful tool and had turned into dead wood full of mistakes, we decided that it was time for a change.
Exploratory testing was quite easy to make, because all participants in the testing were right here in DataArt. It was amazing how many mistakes were immediately found! Oh yes, UI patterns had changed in last 10 years. We also made a research of the functional aspects and found that a lot of features were useless and not exploited at all. As a result, the new version of PM was supplemented by needed functions.
After several rounds of testing, identifying bugs and improving mistakes, we came up with a new, useful, and good looking time tracking system.
Goodbye empty Timesheets! Nowadays everyone dreams of filling out their timetable at the end of the working day! Users evaluated the new benefits:
- Adding a new task with one click from the main page;
- Dividing tasks into categories– favorites and others – for easy search;
- Searching people and projects in a search bar (searching starts when you type in a query);
- Make notifications about absence or vacations also by one click;
- Sending regards to somebody for their birthday takes just a few seconds. (Okay, I agree, this is not the main function of PM, but still).
Using the new system turned into a pleasure. But our usability testing is not over and we continue making changes and improvements.
Perfection knows no bounds. The same is for the usability of a product.
Just a few examples of how it looked like before and after usability testing
Timetable before: The calendar could only be reached with numerous clicks on the very bottom of the last page.
Timetable after: The calendar is on the starting page – with time tracking graphs.
Tasks table before: Even experienced users were not sure about the meaning of the icons on left.
Tasks table after: We’ve found out that no icons were needed in the tasks table at all.
Search before: No immediate response, you need to type in the whole request of what you search for.
Search after: Shows available results in real time, it’s easy to choose the desired result.
Adding a new task before: Dozens of fields, awful date selection etc. (Not to mention the fact that the ‘new task’ link was hidden somewhere in the corner)
Adding a new task after: In just two clicks you obtain the desired result.