Usability testing

Subject: Usability testing
From: Tom Johnson <johnsont -at- starcutter -dot- com>
To: "'Tom Murrell'" <trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 3 Jul 2000 16:02:11 -0400

We do some informal usability testing where I work. Our documentation is
mostly in a maintenance state right now, so changes are irregular and
usually minor. Because of the minor changes, we normally don't bother with
formal testing.

Our latest test was rather interesting. We had a complaint from a customer
saying a certain procedure was unclear. This procedure has been in use for
about three years and we've made some minor changes along the way. Word
came to us through one of our service reps that the customer was confused
and couldn't get through the procedure.

So, we gave the procedure to several people with experience similar to our
typical customer. They tested it and had no trouble whatsoever. It turns
out the same service rep had trained this customer how to perform this
procedure HIS WAY and told them the procedure in the book was wrong and not
to follow it. Why our service rep is undermining the manuals remains to be
seen. Maybe he is trying to make himself look good in some weird convoluted
way. Maybe his way is easier or better, but he hasn't given us anything to
chew on yet.

So what does this say about usability testing? Some people will find
something wrong even if hundreds of people use it with no problem. Can you
come up with a document that will make everyone happy? Maybe, maybe not.
Can an employee single-handedly make a document (or a company) look
foolish? Most definitely.

On Monday, July 03, 2000 3:13 PM, Tom Murrell [SMTP:trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com]
> Of course, I realize that there are many among us who will say that there
is no
> reason for usability testing. I can just hear them saying, "Just cram all
> information between the covers of the documentation and let the user sort
> out. We don't need testing; we need results!"
> However, I don't count myself among those sorts.
> I'd also be interested in hearing from those who do manage some usability
> testing about how they balance that need with deadlines and other
> =====
> Tom Murrell
> Senior Technical Writer
> Alliance Data Systems
> Columbus, Ohio
Tom Johnson
Technical Writer

thomasj -at- freeway -dot- net

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