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1 posts from September 2009

September 03, 2009

Why you need to do more usability testing...

Users women cultureUsability testing has a hidden benefit that is not apparent unless you do a lot of usability testing. The benefit is cultural absorption. By cultural absorption, I am not referring to culture as in a field study (contextual inquiry, ethnographic study), instead I am talking about user culture.

User culture is what you gain from understanding how users think, walking in their shoes, taking their perspective on issues like:

User culture, situated outside of companies, is usually abstracted, misunderstood and distorted (in that order!). User culture typically runs counter to your development culture. Regular usability testing helps bridge this culture gap.

Development cultures are technological sub-sets of company culture:

  • Dev groups typically think: users know more than they do, that users can do what they normally do (or most of it), that shortcuts are helpful, that features are more helpful than they usually are, for example. 
  • Company culture is typically characterized by big picture thinking CEO's that get user experience but don't terraform their company culture (see Why you can't innovate like Apple), with a few or single grassroots user experience champions. Middle management is usually too busy to get up to speed on usability research and as a result contact with customers is limited or not existent.

Usability testing is usually thought of as offering benefits to understanding how users use your design. That's all good, but one of the under-noticed benefits of usability testing is exposure to user cognition. User cognition is characterized by rules, behaviors, habits, values, beliefs, attitudes and patterns. That is why I consider it and call it a culture. It's unique to your users and it's typically different to the way your organization functions and thinks about its user experience problems.

Usability testing is typically believed to be good on a regular basis because it helps designers and developers vet usability problems. While this is true, it is rarely recognized that iterative, rapid usability testing is good because it puts you in closer contact with users, their culture and their cognitive requirements you design for. This is why I believe you need to do more usability testing!

Happy Usability Testing!
Frank Spillers, MS (Usability Consultant)