Re: Usability - any experiences or processes to share?

Subject: Re: Usability - any experiences or processes to share?
From: Nancy Allison <maker -at- verizon -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 23 May 2008 10:45:26 -0500 (CDT)

In my experience, most companies are not willing to spend a dime on usability. At one such company, we (tech writers) got a high school intern to go through our UI with our manual in hand, during our lunch hour. (I think we paid her pizza.)

Was she too young to provide useful data? I don't think so. She was a very bright kid, and our system was a videoconferencing system that was supposed to be quick! and easy! to use. (This was about 10 years ago.) We assumed that the admins who were going to be doing call setup would be bright and knowledgeable, but neither they nor the high school senior were born knowing the difference between an ISDN number, an IP address, and a gateway extension number. (We provided dummy data, but the question was, was the user able to navigate the instructions even with such data.) Forgive me if those values seem improbable for setting up a call: I no longer remember exactly what data the user was required to supply, but it did include various numbers that no normal person had ever heard of or knew where to find.

I don't think our little test took the full hour. The comments she made as she worked through the UI were enough to keep us busy for days. For example, something as simple as this: "I really don't know what a 'value' is." (As in "Enter the value in the ISDN field.")

As soon as she said that, I **remembered** when I started out as a tech writer -- I didn't know what a "value" was, either! And now we were all throwing that word around as if everyone knew it. The technology was difficult enough without also using opaque words like "value" that seem to say something but don't really. And using "value" is sloppy anyway. WHAT are you supposed to enter? Explain it, don't just use the catchall term "value"!

While companies aren't willing to spend for usability testing, even the simplest test that costs virtually nothing can provide a fresh view into your documentation (and UI). That's what I learned from the experience.

Hope this is helpful.


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