Blogging has been light lately and it always makes me feel a little bad. I feel this sense of neglect, like Iâ€™m not doing my job or something. In actuality nothing could be further from the truth.
A project for my biggest client has recently been thrown into high gear. Iâ€™ve been traveling for the last two weeks doing usability studies using paper prototypes. Weâ€™re trying to turn around a new version of the same process every week and itâ€™s about to kill me. Yesterday was an 18 hour day, I got up this morning after 3.5 hours of sleep and now Iâ€™m on a plane back to Seattle, where I will go directly into meetings- and in one of which Iâ€™m am presenting. Last week was the same schedule, and Iâ€™m really hoping next week will change.
The usability testing has been awesome. I am continually amazed at how valuable paper prototyping can be. People easily suspend reality and use sheets of paper like a computer. Clicks are done with a pen and the participant writes instead of typing. It takes a lot of prep work and discipline (something Iâ€™m starting to learn). We have identified many, many problems that we can solve without touching one piece of code. They are just drawings.
I feel like we could never test enough, having gone though a couple of weeks of this process. Itâ€™s fascinating to see multiple people stumble on the same problem and then make changes to fix it â€“ then see new people totally â€œget itâ€?? the next round. However, there are always new problems that crop up in the early stages.
My biggest challenge right now is experience and practice. Iâ€™m learning that becoming a disciplined usability tester is something that can only come with practice. Iâ€™ve read many books, but nothing is a replacement for the real world experience. Iâ€™m really trying to focus on paying attention to the userâ€™s actions and trying to pick up on what is REALLY happening.
Yesterday, a user came to a page and read the description. The first words out of his mouth were â€œexcellentâ€??, said in a normal tone. I noted this and asked him about it in the debrief. As it turned out, he was being sarcastic. He read the description and thought â€œyeah right- too good to be trueâ€??. To date, this was my greatest testing moment- probing for deeper meaning and finding that reality was very different from my perception.
Soon weâ€™ll be moving to Flash implementations of the product, which will take things to a new level. Iâ€™m hoping that the level it comes with sleep and less travel.