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Getting Feedback on Usability

It's common for people at all levels of a company, and in all company departments, to comment on the usability of the product or company web site and give suggestions on how to improve it.

Why? Here's a clue. I wrote in late 2005 that:
Most people, including executives, consider much of marketing to be common sense. We're all consumers, so we all know how we respond to products, names, logos, advertisements, and PR, right? So we're all experts on what works in marketing, no?
Wrong. See the original blog entry to learn why marketing is not common sense.

The same principle applies to usability. In playing the role of consumer in many aspects of our lives, we use products and web sites, and we know which ones are usable - and perhaps even what makes them usable - right?

Wrong. Just as marketing isn't common sense, usability isn't common sense, and for the same reasons.

Nonetheless, debates over usability and strategies for redesign can get quite contentious and time consuming. Even if a company is smart enough to have skilled interaction designers and user interface designers, the designers are often caught in the middle, but their expertise ignored.

There is a way of resolving these questions: a product manager frames the usability metrics and conducts tests on representative users to measure the usability of the current and proposed designs.

Unfortunately, many team members still have a bit of "overconfidence" in their ability to conduct this testing themselves. For example, a favorite idea of executives is to form a focus group, ask members of the group questions about the designs, and possibly ask them for design suggestions. Good product managers and usability experts know this approach is flawed.

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen tells us why usability testing is not as straightforward as the average company employee or executive may think:
The way to get user data boils down to the basic rules of usability:
  • Watch what people actually do.
  • Do not believe what people say they do.
  • Definitely don't believe what people predict they may do in the future.
Good product managers know how to elicit, gather, and interpret usability feedback, because by definition they know how to facilitate market input and draw appropriate conclusions from it.


Jeff SKI Kinsey said…
>> Watch what people actually do. <<

M1EK said…
One of my earliest real-developer experiences was as a summer intern at IBM where I wrote some of the control-panel-like objects in the Workplace Shell interface in OS/2 2.0. Really cool setup they had going there in a lab converted from an old hardware testing facility - a ring of rooms with 1-way mirrors where others (including us) could WATCH the users they brought in from temp agencies try to use last weeks' build...
Jeremy Gorr said…
I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about "overconfidence" and "ignoring expertise".

As is the case with most product management problems: let the experts in the discipline guide you, rather than having the executives think they know better because they get a bigger paycheck.

Respecting the roles of everyone in the process, and not trying to control the outcome from above, is the key to getting usability right.

Jeremy Gorr
I believ this is something that is essential to any app like the one I am working on, SOOK. An app can solve a problem but if it is not designed properly it is not going to matter. How useful is an app if it is not easy and seamless for the user.

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