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re: There have been many messages lately about usability testing, and my
team would like to start moving in that direction. We'd like to start by
gathering some data on user preferences via an online survey. (Do you use
online help? Printed manuals? etc.) We're trying to get educated about
surveys in general, and yes, we realize some of the pitfalls and
Here's a suggestion that first of all you consider your product and its user
manual, online help, etc. all one thing. The team or individual that
designed the hardware or software has some usability responsibility as well.
You're all in it together. Therefore, why not try to design usability
testing as a combined test of the product *and* its help?
It's likely a problem coming up with a customer-like group to help with
testing. It should be easier to organize your company so that product
developers and tech writers work and usability test together as a team.
Here's how we do it. I realize we probably have it easy and this won't work
for everyone--it's an example.
Product: shipping container Manual: how to load/unload the container and
how to perform maintenance on the container.
First, we have an LTG (Laboratory Task Group) meeting. We find folks (other
engineers) in the company not part of the product development and tech
writing team to role play manual reader and procedure performers and we run
through it. Usability problems, when found, are discussed and solutions
devised. We repeat the step after modifications sometimes. When our
internal confidence level is high, we have a JTG (Joint Task Group) meeting.
This is a meeting with our customer, which is the military. They bring in
(or we go there) some of their technicians to read and perform. It's
likely--this is significant--they also bring in some of their training
folks, because when the product is accepted these folks will be the ones
that introduce it to the rest of the troops.
So, the suggestions or principles are
1. Co-test product and tech writing usability.
2. Test first with company internal folks.
3. Test with potential customers, possibly through their training function.
Note: you could work with your company's Marketing department to arrange
this--now there is three-way teaming: development/tech writing/marketing.
We may have the most expensive process (we have high failure consequences)
and we most often have plenty of time, but your program could be something
scaled back from this--just keep the principle ideas in mind.