Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe.

Usability testing in Agile environments

There are some great answers in the Quora thread How do you prevent scope creep in agile projects when usability testing? From Todd Zaki Warfel’s answer:

Usability testing doesn’t have to be a formal 3 month engagement. There are plenty of resources out there for doing rapid testing, which can easily be worked into a typical 3-6 week sprint cycle. We do it all the time. Take a week out of the sprint to plan, test, compile recommendations and get to work implementing them. Or as Jeff Gothelf commented, just pick a single day each week to test. You won’t need may participants. If you test weekly, then 3-5 will show a pattern. And anything you don’t catch this week, you’ll catch next week.

From Jeff Gothelf’s answer:

Usability testing needs to be worked in to the sprint timeline. In fact, it should take place during each and every sprint. We test every Thursday. It’s never more than 3 or 4 people. We show whatever we have ready on that day. Sometimes it’s live code and sometimes it’s a paper sketch. Everything in between is fair game. The purpose of this is to get constant feedback, mid-iteration, on the work being designed. In many cases, developers and product owners view portions of these sessions and see the issues that arise. An expectation is built within the team that, based on how things test on Thursday, there may be some tweaks to the scope.

Do what you love?

My latest column for A List Apart is called How to Do What You Love, the Right Way, and it’s out today. It’s a response to that mantra we hear so often, and loosely based on a rant by Merlin Mann on one of his Back to Work podcasts. Here’s the gist:

Doing what you love doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job and starting a coffee shop. Most often, it means building your own platform, and crafting your own work, one step at a time.

When makers and decision-makers are far apart

Marty Cagan wrote one of his characteristically great posts in Product vs. IT Mindset. In one particularly harsh section he describes what happens when the people who make decisions about a product are far removed from those who make the product:

In IT mindset companies, accountability frankly is a farce. The people actually working on a project typically have no real say in what they are building, and sometimes even in how it’s built, and even when it’s due. In theory, the leadership team could try to hold the requesting stakeholders accountable for the results, but if they do they immediately hear complaints that they didn’t get what they actually wanted, and because of delays and costs, critical things had to get cut, and so it’s certainly not their fault. So management writes it off as yet another failed technology initiative. In contrast, in a product organization, we are measured by results.

I’ve always felt that this is the biggest challenge to companies as they grow. The further away those who make decisions are from those who build the product, the harder it is to remain customer-focused in the long term.

“Making It Right” now available in paperback

I try not to overwhelm you with posts about the product management book I wrote recently, but I do think this deserves a post. After a few hiccups, Making It Right is now available in paperback on Amazon, through CreateSpace Independent Publishing.

If you like papery things and margins, I’m sure you will like it.

Buy ‘Making It Right’ on Amazon.

The importance of understanding both user and company culture

Peter Morville’s Creating a Cultural Fit: Using ethnography with users and stakeholders is one of the most useful UX articles I’ve read in a while. He talks about the importance of understanding the cultures of both users and companies to create good products. He concludes:

In short, the right design is one that fits the company and its customers. A mismatch on either side results in fatal error. We must use ethnography with our users and stakeholders to search for a bi-cultural fit. This is tricky since culture is mostly invisible. That’s why we should start with a map.

This is a must-read.

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Content outlines as part of the prototyping process

Sophie Shepherd introduces some new deliverables in Rethinking Our Prototypical Process, including this one:

HTML prototypes have the potential to confuse some clients. In addressing feedback, I’ve answered questions like: Are we tied to this layout? (No.) Is this real content? (Ideally.) Is this what our website will look like? (Probably not.) The content outline strips any potentially distracting elements from the prototype: no layout, no typography, no links, no things remotely resembling design. It’s just a list of the content that will be on each page in order of its importance.

This deliverable, which she calls a “Content outline” or “Page description diagram”, seems like it fits well with my idea of Content slice diagrams. It’s great to see these new useful deliverables emerging — a sensible retreat from the “get out of the deliverables business” march of the past few years.

Single-purpose products

Craig Mod discusses single-purpose products in his product design essay There is much to learn from the paper towel:

All of these single-purpose tools or philosophies strive towards the same goal: whittle away the cruft around an idea to reveal its most base components, and in doing so, strengthen what is left.

The single-purpose lecture attendee is, in theory, a better student. The single-purpose-sized paper towel makes us happier, is gentler on the earth. Individual tools in unix are more efficient and easier to debug because of their specificity. Facebook Messenger on its own is easier to use to communicate without the deluge of Facebook notifications flying in our faces. And so on and so forth.

I’ve started using Craig’s solution for single-purpose Twitter notifications and single-purpose Facebook messages and it works really well.

Makers vs. Users

I really like Alex Maughan’s post In a word, Human. He discusses the dangerous gap between those who make software, and those who use it:

Successful user experiences happen when producer whims get sidelined, and primary focus is placed on that little bit of common sense shared by the majority of humans using your product or service. It’s when you empathetically put yourself in the most common psychological flow of a human using a piece of technology they know almost nothing about.

This is a topic I’m very passionate about, so I agree wholeheartedly with Alex.

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