Testing the Limits with Craig Tomlin, Usability Expert: Part II

In the second part of this two-part interview, Usability Expert Craig Tomlin talks the best user experiences and the future of usabCraig Tomlinility. Be sure to follow Craig on Twitter @ctomlin, and get to know him along with the first part of our interview.

uTest: When functional testing, you’ll probably start with the mission-critical functionality. When an end-user is given an app or site to provide Usability feedback without direction, which areas are most critical to look at first?

CT: Usability feedback without direction is just opinion, which is not valuable. Usability testing is always conducted on critical tasks. What are critical tasks? Those are the tasks that must be accomplished for the user to be successful. Note that it’s the ‘user successful’ part of that definition that is so important. Many times, businesses seek to optimize tasks that are important for their business, but not at all important to the user. That’s a waste of resources. Yes, businesses must be successful, but ultimately that success only comes from providing a valuable service or product to the target audience. Making sure the user experience is maximized for the user is the best way for a business to be successful.

So usability should never be based on feedback with no direction. Usability if done properly identifies critical tasks, the personas of representative users who need to accomplish that task, a protocol that tests the task in a non-biased manner, and the metrics that will provide the insight into whether that task is being accomplished as efficiently and effectively as possible, and with the best possible satisfaction.

uTest: Give us your definition of ‘the best user experience.’

CT: First, it’s important to define what we mean when we say ‘user experience.’ I’ve been known to rant about this subject, because it’s rare to find two people that have the exact same definition of what ‘user experience’ actually means. The original concept that was popularized by Don Norman was a broad or holistic viewpoint on how design and humans connect, and incorporated much more than just a UI or specific functionality.

In that broad context, the user experience you have with a brand includes your experiences with the brand’s product, with their education, marketing and sales communications, with their customer service be it in store, online or via phone, with the pleasure and satisfaction you receive from using the product or service, and with your interaction with others involved with usage of that product or service.

If we use that definition of user experience, then the best user experience is something that was designed with our needs in mind to give us satisfaction and pleasure from using it again and again. Consider an iPhone or iPad, or even an exit door that opens automatically when you approach it. All are examples of the best user experience.

I think it’s sometimes easy for us to forget that definition, to become so wrapped up in our own unique smaller piece of the broader user experience, that we miss opportunities to truly make a best user experience for our customers and clients. Taking a step back and remembering the bigger, broader definition of user experience can help to reinforce how what we do is making a difference for the people that use our products or services.

uTest: What are some of the most egregious mistakes or poor user experiences you’ve come across as a Usability Analyst?

CT: I’d like to answer this question by asking the readers to think about a product or service they enjoy using. What about that iPhone? If you have one, do you value it, is it enjoyable to use? Does it make life better for you?

Now what about that application or website you’re working on. Will it provide the same ease of use, satisfaction and happiness? If not, then you have a poor user experience that can be improved.

You, me and everyone we meet has examples of poor user experiences. Do you know what the common factor is that makes them all poor? It is the reality that those items were not designed from a user-centered viewpoint or approach. Sometimes we start with good intentions, but ‘shortcuts’ or other issues caused by lack of resources, poor planning or inadequate execution break the experience and cause it to be less than what it should have been.

A good user experience is often called ‘simple.’ That’s not because the item is basic or lacking functionality or features; it’s because the item was created from the user’s perspective and thus is aligned with that user, making it simple and satisfying for the user.

uTest: What about the future? Where do you think Usability is going?

CT: I believe that we’ve made great strides in the past 20 years or so in moving the importance and awareness of user-centered design and usability into many corporations and firms. However, there is still much more to be done. I expect that as we increasingly become a mobile-centric culture, the importance of usability and user experience will continue to grow. We should see that in the increasing utilization of user-centered design principles across organizations. We should see that in the increasing number of user centered design practitioners that are hired and employed by firms. And we should see that in the increasing adoption by consumers and businesses of good user experiences, with the equal denial and utilization of poor user experiences.

In the next five or so years, this will likely be most important in the wearable technology sector, where simplicity and satisfaction are paramount to adoption and usage.

The future of usability and user experience is wide open. It’s a great time to be a usability or user experience practitioner.

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