Category Archives: Usability and User Research

3 Key Research Principles for Business Success

In this day and age of ‘data’ and ‘insights’, empirical research has taken its rightful place in the pantheon of useful business tools.  With that comes the potential for overusing the term to the point of diluting its meaning.

With that in mind, let’s examine two ways of talking about “research”:

THE SILLY WAY

– “Survey says …” – Richard Dawson, Family Feud host

– Prefacing any biased statement or personal belief with the phrase “research has shown that … ”

– You ask the librarian if they have a certain book available and she says “Let me research that for you” (meaning “I will go and check”)

– “4 out of 5 dentists recommend …”

THE MEANINGFUL WAY

– Empirical (primary) research in the context of business practices today (marketing research, user research, usability research, etc.) has its roots in the the philosophical traditions of Empiricism.

– The great Empiricist David Hume used his famous  question “How do you know?” to examine claims about the world.  This question ended up being know as the “empiricists’ wrecking ball”

– According to Hume, the only valid knowledge on how the world works comes through our senses and can be experienced and shared by individuals.  For example, we know how cold it is outside by the shared sensation of our skin receptors and our visual perception of the thermometer reading.

– Empirical, or primary, research is based on the foundation described above

– There is a wrong way and a right way of doing empirical research

– Research done in Academia has provided the basic tools for research done in the business arena

– Practical research done for business purposes and basic research done in Academia are two very different ball games with different rules

– Academic research aims to build basic knowledge

– Business-related research aims to provide practical information to support business decisions

THREE KEY RESEARCH PRINCIPLES for Customer Experience research

– Research the end-to-end customer experience,  all customer touch points (360 view)

– Research customer experience longitudinally, as it evolves through time (Lifetime Customer Value)

– Triangulate metrics to increase confidence in research findings

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Iterative Usability Testing as Continuous Feedback: A Control Systems Perspective

In the field of usability, debates about number of users, the use of statistics, etc. in the abstract are pointless and even counter-productive. I propose that the answers depend on the research questions and business objectives of each project and thus cannot be discussed in absolute terms. Sometimes usability testing is done with an implicit or explicit hypothesis in mind. At other times the purpose of testing is to guide iterative design. These two approaches call for different study designs and treatment of data.

Control systems theory is very applicable to the topic of usability to highlight and frame the value of iterative usability testing in the design lifecycle. Within this new metaphor, iterative testing is a form of feedback which is most effective and resource-efficient if done as often as practically possible with project resources and timelines in mind.

In the basic control system feedback loop, the “input function” is the sensing of the current state. That perception is compared against a point of reference through a mechanism called “comparator.” If a discrepancy is perceived between the present state and the desired (or reference) state a behavior is performed, which is the “output function.” The goal of the output function is to reduce the discrepancy. The output has an impact on the system’s environment (i.e. anything external to the system). Such an impact creates a change in the present condition, leading to a different perception, which in turn is once again compared with the reference value (Carver & Scheier, 1982, p.11).

CST is a useful theoretical framework for usability testing for several reasons. Firstly, usability testing is as an integral part of the User Centered Design (UCD) process which is a complex system driven by goals. Secondly, UCD and usability goals are hierarchically organized. Thirdly, iterative usability testing (as opposed to benchmark testing) can be viewed as a form of continuous feedback that guides design.

Practitioners’ Takeaway:

  • Do not debate the appropriateness of specific user research methods in the abstract.
  • Before selecting a research method, always clarify the research questions and business objectives of each project and get team buy in.
  • Consider iterative usability testing a form of feedback on the progress towards specific design and business goals.
  • Start doing iterative testing as early as possible in the design lifecycle.
  • Conduct iterative testing as often as practically possible with project resources and timelines in mind.

Link to full article: Iterative Usability As Continuous Feedback

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