Jeanie Decker and Deb Lewy recently sat in on usability testing for DPM v.2 screens. Why do writers care about usability? Because the easier the UI is to navigate, the easier it is to explain in the documentation. Our goal is to work with the product team to ensure that the UI design and UI text work together to provide an intuitive, consistent user experience.
The entire usability testing process was fascinating, as Jeanie attests to in her
The lab is just large enough for a table, chair, and computer, and for 2 to 3 people to stand and talk. When the door is closed, it's a quiet room, no distractions. Adjoining the lab is the room I'll call the observatory, in which the tester and others can watch the participant through one-way glass. The participant (I'll call him Bob) was already settled in at his computer in the lab. I joined the usability expert, Tracy, and Amit, the user
interface designer, in the observatory. Bob had been given written goals for a task, and Tracy instructed him to explain his thoughts and actions as he proceeded. Now, this "thinking aloud" part is really critical. We don't want to interpret why the user is just looking at the screen while moving his mouse in circles; we want to hear "I'm trying to find a button that will let me start the task" or "I'm reading the screen; it's telling me that I don't have the resources to proceed.”
Bob was excellent at thinking out loud. Or perhaps Tracy was excellent at getting the best out of participants? Either way, good results. So, we watched Bob's monitor on a monitor in the observatory, listened as he explained what he was doing and thinking, and took lots of notes. Occasionally, Tracy prompted Bob to discuss how he would interpret different options on a screen. Bob would answer, "I'm guessing it means..." and his explanation would be correct, but I want to go back and figure out how to make
the choices less of a guess. Bob gave us lots of "I would have expected..." statements; those contain really valuable information. We want to know what the customer expectation is so we can meet it or manage it.
It was also helpful when he gave suggestions, such as "It wants me to type an e-mail address here; do I need the full address or can it resolve. And similarly answer all the difficult questions.