Observe and Test You Must!

laptop with malletIn the UX Apprentice tutorial, there is a quote from a CNN Money article by the founder of Wesabe, Marc Hedlund, where he noted that “while I was focused on trying to make the usability of editing data as easy and functional as it could be; Mint was focused on making it so you never had to do that (editing data) at all. Their approach completely kicked our approach’s ass.”

This story reminded me of my first User Experience project that involved complaints about an enterprise Accident Reporting application. This application met all the requirements of the Safety Department, had a sophisticated workflow process and had no performance issues. However, complaints continued to flood in, so our team got involved in the project.

After a little digging it transpired that the method to add employee(s) to an Accident Report was the main cause of the complaints.

When a safety department employee clicked the “Add employee” link the following occurred:

  1. A full new page loaded with a search field.
  2. After searching, the safety department employee would see a list of employees with their names hyperlinked.
  3. The safety department employee would need to click on the hyperlinked name to add an employee to the accident report.
  4. If the names didn’t come up correctly in the search and safety department employee clicked the browser “back” button, the entry screen would refresh and lose all entered data.

The safety department Vice President (with a Masters Degree in Engineering) walked through the steps above and experienced the frustrations of our users first hand. We then had the green light to fix the problem.

After some great coaching on prototyping and testing by my former colleague Delise Weir, the team fixed the “Add employee” with a new process. In the improved application, when a safety department employee clicked the “Add employee” link the new process was:

  1. A search window popped up so the accident information could be seen behind it. This also kept the safety department employee from clicking the browser back button.
  2. After searching, the safety department employee would see the list of employees, each with an associated “Add” button.
  3. After the employee was added to the accident report, the popup window closed and the accident entry screen was updated.

After the updated process was released, the user community was happy and complaints about this portion of the workflow disappeared.

Based on this experience and many others, I’d submit that:

  • Users get frustrated when a visual workflow gets interrupted
  • Workflow is more important to users than features

To save time and money, find a way (somehow) to:

  • Observe new users working with your application to determine challenges
  • Prototype and test your application before you code