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What do users really think about your software?

27 April 2017

By Ashley Newton

My journey in the tech industry came from a combined interest in learning to code, and my lifelong passion for writing. While writing comes naturally to me, design regrettably does not. Nonetheless, this journey has led me into the world of design through the eyes of a user. More specifically, I’ve found myself involved in usability testing in the last 6 months

As we develop new, cutting-edge products at Yotta, I have been contributing increasingly to product design and usability testing. For my part, the two go hand in hand, since I often see the product both before and after development, providing feedback at both stages.

As a relative usability novice, the last 6 months have opened my eyes to the world of design. After these 6 months of usability testing, here are the design lessons I’ve learned.

1 – Be consistent

This one’s pretty simple, yet easy to overlook. On a fundamental level, users need the freedom to move forward and backward through the different parts of your product without any obstacles.

For example, in our Mayrise Android applications, we design our interfaces to be consistent not just with each other, but also with other Android applications on the market[1].

Here are a few common characteristics across all of our apps:

  • Tasks are represented both by cards in a list, and matching icons on a map.
  • Users can select either the icon or card to view details about the task.
  • They can get directions to the task’s location.
  • Tapping a familiar menu icon presents additional options.

While these consistency measures offer seamless navigation within our Android products, their design conforms to industry standards. This reduces the learning curve for users who are new to our products.

Consistency ensures that your design is intuitive and familiar. It helps establish a regular workflow for users to follow, so they know what to expect every time they use your software.

[1] http://www.yotta.co.uk/news/new-mobile-jobs-management-app/

2 – Create structure

Designing a new product may feel like getting the keys to your new car – you want to take it for a spin, and take advantage of your newfound freedom. But without any structure, it may be hard to get the ball rolling.

Or more importantly, it may be tempting to forget rule #1 – making sure to provide a consistent user experience. Here are some ideas of how to create a healthy dose of structure:

  • Use a style guide. In fact, you may end up using multiple style guides – one for code, one for design, one for copy, etc. Some guides can be drafted internally, while others may come from trusted sources in the industry. For instance, Google’s Material Design[2] sets the standard for many Android apps, to ensure a consistent experience for users. By researching industry practices, you may even discover other style guides whose suggestions help you best represent your brand.
  • Document the product. Although you may see your design as perfectly intuitive, there may still be usability issues you’ve overlooked. When users run into those issues, they should be able to follow a clear process for getting support. The first step in that process is consulting documentation
  • Define a clear process for quality assurance. After all, bugs happen. Maybe you can’t catch them all, but it’s worth having dedicated testers who are responsible for finding issues. That way they can make sure issues get resolved before the product reaches your users.

[2] https://material.io/guidelines/

3 – But not too much structure

While structure can be good, there’s such a thing as over-doing it. What I appreciate most about working in tech is that it’s a domain where innovation and creativity are valued. More than in virtually any other industry, the general culture is unencumbered by red tape.

Be willing to impose constraints – but also willing to consider new options if you discover a better way of doing things. If you get in the habit of always saying no, it can block fresh ideas from flowing.

Be ready to change the style guide if there’s a good reason to. Encourage brainstorming. Listen to your users’ suggestions. Adapt your documentation to changing user needs.

4 – Be inclusive

Design the product with your users in mind. What does that mean? At Yotta we create user personas based on real user data, then try to accomplish tasks within the product that the persona would need to do their job[3]. This exercise helps you to consider user needs and highlight features that could be improved to serve them better.

[3] http://www.yotta.co.uk/blog/2016/06/30/developing-personas/

Notice I mention user personas – not persona. It’s crucial to remember that a diverse range of people will use the product – each with her or his own individual needs. To the greatest extent possible, remember to include all of your users as you design the product. Some users may be tech-savvy, and others not. Some may have low vision. Some may work in an office, while others work in the field.

If it seems daunting to accommodate everyone, start by asking: how can you at least make the product customisable? Include optional settings or tools so different users can make the product work for them.

A great example is Slack’s customisable interface themes. Slack lets users choose from a variety of options, including two different accessible themes for users with different types of colour blindness.

I’m sure we can all agree that we should strive to be more inclusive. But how do we go about achieving it? That brings us to…

5 – Be compassionate

To be inclusive requires empathy. You need to be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes to predict what they expect from your design, and how they will rely on it. This requires user research. But how do we best approach it?

You can collect user data in a variety of ways – maybe you send out surveys, or use analytics to track their behaviour within the product.

You can also develop relationships with users to get a better feel for who they are and what they need. At Yotta we do this through our excellent Support and Professional Services teams, who work directly with clients to ensure our software meets their needs. By building trust with users, you can hear about their impressions of the product, and get honest feedback about any design flaws that may have gone unnoticed otherwise.

6 – Don’t be afraid to reach out

When you devote all of your effort into designing an amazing product, it’s natural to feel excited or even nervous, as all of the pieces come together and people start to actually use it.

Seek constructive feedback as a way to continually improve the product’s usability. If users don’t volunteer to provide feedback, reach out and ask for it. Define a clear process for users to request enhancements. Let them know how requests will be handled. Again, you may not be able to accommodate every request (or at least not right away), but when you show that you’re open to feedback, you can keep the communication and creativity flowing.

 

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