The phrase “usability” gets thrown around a lot these days, and it means different things to different people. Yes, we could classify usable software as “easy to use” and learnable without an instruction manual. But that’s like saying professionally prepared sushi is merely raw fish. No, it’s the tying together a master itamae’s decades of expertise, maintaining of a razor-sharp knife, enforcement of proper rice cook time and vinegar content, and the discerning eye of a fishmonger that produces a memorable dining experience. It’s about the methods and skillfulness in applying those methods.
Likewise, usable software occurs only with a specialized methodology at the hands of a trained User Experience (UX) designer.
Mobile makes usability even more challenging given the wide variety of contexts in which your apps might be used. Sure, there are tools that make it easier to confirm your mobile website will run on most modern web browsers. Confirming that your app meets the needs of users where they’ll be plugging away—riding public transportation, at home on a couch, running up a mountain, in low-bandwidth situations, etc—is substantially harder to do. And this is where usability-testing techniques come into play.
At HT, we thread usability testing techniques throughout each of our agile sprints regardless of project size.
Sure, we have fancy eye-tracking and galvanic skin response sensors that we use to test and refine User Interface control choice and placement when we’re really in the details of app design. Well before that, however, we carefully test our design hypothesis using dozens and dozens of paper prototypes placed before real users.
Don’t overlook this low-tech technique. With this process, we’ve gotten users so excited about a recent state government mobile app that they wanted to know when they could begin downloading to their smartphone. And we hadn’t even yet begun any engineering!
User-centric design is a real thing, but it doesn’t get born in a lab. Fancy testing equipment just can’t replace listening to your customers.