Low-Cost, Lightweight Mobile UX Research

Yesterday I had the pleasure of leading a panel discussion at Techweek Chicago 2013 on low-cost, lightweight methods that design teams can use to conduct user research and usability testing for mobile apps and websites.

Our team also created a list of mobile prototyping and testing tools that can be purchased for less than $300. It’s a small expense when your company is betting on you getting the product and its design right. We hope this helps you build better experiences for your users.

Chicago Web Conf 2012

Chicago Web Conf 2012
Chicago Web Conf 2012

I presenting a talk yesterday at Chicago Web Conf 2012 on A/B Testing Your Designs With Real Users, focusing on the role of A/B in digital product development.

I showed at a high level how we use the A/B testing solution Optimizely where I work at Cars.com to test our designs in ways that are quantitatively measurable. Like other A/B test solutions, Optimizely allows you to quickly create and implement tests and start collecting data immediately.

In addition to showing some examples of our tests and results, I also tried to show how A/B testing can fit into a company’s larger user experience testing strategy. My goal was to leave attendees with five key takeaways regarding A/B testing:

  • It’s not a replacement for testing with individuals.
  • Small changes can lead to big improvements.
  • It takes little effort to test those changes once a solution is in place.
  • This kind of testing can take some of the team friction out of the design process.
  • It can help you get better solutions to market faster.

My slides are available (PDF format).

The Value of Flexible Prototyping

I recently experienced firsthand the power of flexible prototyping — and it is powerful.

I was doing in-lab, moderated usability testing of a mobile website experience and had reached that point where after a few participants you know you have a problem and the team wants to test a new solution. Our team’s visual designer — also a rock star front-end coder — offered to cook up a new prototype mixing the UI elements from the current site that tested well with participants with some design elements from our prototype that also seemed to be testing well.

The prototype in question was coded in HTML5 and jQuery, running on iPhones and Androids off Dropbox. After about 30 minutes, he came back to the observation room to say the new prototype was ready to go.

Because we were at the last test session of the day, we could only test the new design with one participant, so we certainly couldn’t say it was a design success. But it did eliminate the stumbling block we kept running into.

Perhaps more importantly, the experience reminded the team of the power of lightweight flexible prototypes that can be changed and deployed very quickly. Our approach to future test planning will be focusing on how we can change the prototype mid-test, which should open the door to a more adaptive approach to user research.

HCI 530: Usability Issues for Handheld Devices

I just completed my latest DePaul University graduate HCI course: Usability Issues for Handheld Devices. I want to share one of the papers I wrote, a brief survey of automotive telematics and the associated usability issues and related regulatory frameworks. It’s hardly an exhaustive work due to course time constraints and an assignment maximum page limit, so it does not touch on every aspect of telematics or all the possible usability problems in this emerging field of computing. It does, however, point to some interesting topics for more focused future research.

My paper is over here in PDF format.

Mind Mapping for Note Taking

I’m always looking for a way to work smarter so I recently started using mind mapping as a note taking technique during user testing. I’ve found it superior to taking notes in a linear, chronological fashion because it allows use to organize your notes both topically and visually on the fly.

Mind mapping is a visual way of taking notes, capturing ideas, or arranging thoughts around a central idea. It has been around for several decades since it was popularized by Tony Buzan in his 1993 book The Mind Map Book, and has many uses beyond note taking.

Below is an example I created of a mind map for taking notes of observations from a user testing session. It was created with FreeMind 0.9.0, a free mind mapping tool for Mac and Windows. In addition to allowing you to visually organize notes, you can flag notes with icons with one click to mark task failures, successes, user comments, and other observations you want to quickly find later. This is a big time saver when you have notes from many sessions to digest.

Since trying this technique I have not gone back to note taking in a Word document or text file. Give it a try, you’ll be glad you did.

Mind Mapping for Notes
Mind Mapping for Notes