Defining severity in Usability Expert Reviews

decision-tree

It’s easy to see why there is often push-back on the results of usability tests (nobody likes to be told why their solution doesn’t work), but it’s important to remember that the goal is the same for everyone on the development team: to constantly improve the products we design. Effectively communicating usability results is one step towards designing better products. Via.

Having a standard process for defining severity means that you can be consistent in the way you assign severity and means that you provide the transparency needed for people to check your work. With an expert review,
deciding on the severity is more a matter of judgement, but there are three questions you can ask to improve your objectivity.

From David Travis a concise set of questions to help assign a rating:

Does the problem occur on a red route?
Red routes — frequent or critical tasks — are the most important tasks that the system needs to support, by definition.

Is the problem difficult for users to overcome?
Some usability problems are show-stoppers: users just can’t proceed.

Is the problem persistent?
Persistent problems — problems that keep cropping up — are more severe because they have a bigger impact on time on task and on customer satisfaction.

The complete article: How to prioritise usability problems

More views:
Heuristic Evaluation Quality Score (HEQS): Defining Heuristic Expertise
Rating The Severity Of Usability Problems

20 years ago Jacob Neilson in his article Severity Ratings for Usability Problems outlined the following 5 point scale:

0 = I don't agree that this is a usability problem at all
1 = Cosmetic problem only: need not be fixed unless extra time is available on project
2 = Minor usability problem: fixing this should be given low priority
3 = Major usability problem: important to fix, so should be given high priority
4 = Usability catastrophe: imperative to fix this before product can be released

Problem Prioritization in Usability Evaluation: From Severity Assessments toward Impact on Design

Severity Scales.xls

Effectively Communicating Usability Problems

UXValue as a tool for prioritize bugs

Making sense of usability findings with criteria based severity ratings

Usability Severity Rating – Improved


Icons need text labels

I’ve spent a great deal of time recently staring at ambiguous icons trying to guess their meaning and offer suggestions, it’s a fascinating study and mind numbing at the same time.

When designing icons for interfaces it’s important to note that a user’s understanding of an icon is based on previous experience. This came up recently when evaluating an interface’s usage of the checkmark symbol as a signifier of a change of state (in this instance selecting a photo). In my experience this has always signified completion or success when working through a task or a process, but it seems Apple and Google both are using this in entirely different contexts.

In her article “Icon Usability” Aurora Bedford argues that “due to the absence of a standard usage for most icons, text labels are necessary to communicate the meaning and reduce ambiguity”. I’m not sure this is possible in every instance but it’s a valid argument.

Icon labels should be visible at all times, without any interaction from the user. For navigation icons, labels are particularly critical. Don’t rely on hover to reveal text labels: not only does it increase the interaction cost, but it also fails to translate well on touch devices.

Via: Icon Usability


Real world design is often iterative – fail fast so you can succeed sooner.

Failing fast is one of those seemingly overly simplistic tenets that I often fail at achieving. Balancing perseverance (stubbornness) and the realisation that through failure we learn or succeed is often difficult to achieve.


Persona definition

persona

From Aurora Bedford:

The field of user experience centers on the idea that we must design products around people, rather than teaching people how to use products: user-centered design (UCD), not technology-centered design. In order to do so, we must understand people—their behaviors, attitudes, needs, and goals. […]

A persona is a fictional, yet realistic, description of a typical or target user of the product. A persona is an archetype instead of an actual living human, but personas should be described as if they were real people.

The description should be thorough, including details about the persona’s needs, concerns, and goals, as well as background information such as age, gender, behaviors, and occupation. This focus on a singular individual—or a small set of individuals, if using multiple personas—fosters empathy for the specific users we are designing for, and helps us break away from the attempt to design for everyone. A persona doesn’t need to document every aspect of the imaginary individual’s life, but rather should focus on those characteristics that impact what is being designed. It is likely that a business will have several personas to cover the various aspects of their organization, with one or two of them identified as the main targets for each product or service, feature set, or content area of a website.

Common pieces of information to include are:

  • Name, age, gender, and a photo
  • Tag line describing what they do in “real life”; avoid getting too witty, as doing so may taint the persona as being too fun and not a useful tool
  • Experience level in the area of your product or service
  • Context for how they would interact with your product: Through choice or required by their job? How often would they use it? Do they typically use a desktop computer to access it, or their phone or other device?
  • Goals and concerns when they perform relevant tasks: speed, accuracy, thoroughness, or any other needs that may factor into their usage
  • Quotes to sum up the persona’s attitude

Via Personas Make Users Memorable for Product Team Members


In many ways, the most creative, challenging, and under-appreciated aspect of interaction design is evaluating designs with people. The insights that you’ll get from testing designs with people can help you get new ideas, make changes, decide wisely, and fix bugs.


To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit; it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse.
Paul Rand


On Engagement, Retention, and Distribution

This is a whole new category of study for me. Here are few sources that are getting me started.

Keith Schacht writes an amazing detailed how-to for analyzing your product’s customers entitled Web and Mobile Products: Understanding your customers, while defines the term viral loop and how to build your own viral loop in his article What’s your viral loop? Understanding the engine of adoption.

“Regardless of a company’s earlier success, thriving in the new mobile app economy depends on engagement and retention. After acquiring users, the real battle to keep and ultimately monetize consumers begins”, from App Engagement: The Matrix Reloaded.

“the power of the network effect is fading, at least in its current incarnation. Traditionally defined as a system where each new user on the network increases the value of the service for all others, a network effect often creates a winner-takes-all dynamic, ordaining one dominant company above the rest ..” from The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough.

“A viral product derives much of its growth from its current users recruiting new users. A user could recruit another through a simple invitation (“Check out this product, it’s cool/useful/entertaining!”), or directly through using the product (“I want to send you money on PayPal!”)”, from How to Model Viral Growth: The Hybrid Model.


More than a century and a half before our modern malady of confusing productivity with purposefulness and the urgent with the important, Thoreau wrote in an entry from the last day of March in 1842:

The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk. Why should the hen set all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard.

Via.


Detour: Location-Aware Audio Walks

Detour is a brand new way to experience the world. Gorgeous audio walks in San Francisco that reveal hidden stories, people and places all over SF. Each hour-long Detour takes you at your own pace, your own schedule, alone or synced with friends.

Lovely idea, an “immersive location-aware audio walk service”, perfect for people like me who might land in a place alone and might appreciate a guide to the more interesting places off the beaten path. Similar to something I explored before.