Sunday, February 15, 2009

User Value, by looking at users

With a definition of design fully focused on creating user value it appears important to have a decent understanding of what user value is. The most important aspect is that it needs to be something you can measure.

The first and most useful method comes through looking at and listening to users, or testers who reasonably well represent users. This method is a bit ugly because it will not give you much hard data. The lack of hard data will inhibit the ability to communicate the result to anyone without insight into the actual test itself. People you need to communicate the result with will have to trust your interpretation of the behavior exhibited by the user during the test. You are already fully loaded with test analysis hardware for this particular type of test, use it. We’ll look at methods for scaling up this type of test later but for now think small.

You can start measuring the value of any design as soon as you can find a test subject. A good start may be to talk about the idea with someone. This is extremely cheap, but the test output is very unreliable. However if your design gets shot down by such a primitive test then go back and start over. Or adjust accordingly, possibly by replacing the test subject with another tester.

If your cheapest test is successful it might be time to invest a bit of effort into the design process. What kind of investment you will benefit from depends a lot on the idea itself and your own skills. At this point I tend to find myself needing to develop my own understanding of the idea which is getting developed so I sketch up a series of takes on the idea. If the idea is associated with a game type of product or if the idea is the whole game itself I tend to find a primitive sketch of interface components to be a decent start. This helps me get a better grip on what actions the user should be taking. The end result does not inherit any particular components from this simple sketch, but it gives me a better fundament for testing the idea on more test users.

If the idea survives this far and if it is simple enough it is time for a functional prototype, some paper prototyping is a good idea to start with. If the idea has a close relative implemented in an existing product you can look at altering that product to fit the idea or if you got plenty of time and access to the right skills develop a prototype in code. However most ideas are critically dependant on the value of other ideas, after you got the first idea to the point of where you can invest some time in it you are likely better off measuring the value of the other ideas which it depends on. Take your time and go through each idea until you have collected a firm picture of all the relevant ideas and their individual value before promising any end result to anyone.

Keep in mind that ideas are cheap, plentiful and most often bad. Avoid promising that an idea has value until after you have verified its value against a decent representative of users. By continously measuring the things you do against test users you increase your chances of designing successfully. When you fail to get a successful test from an effort you have produced waste.

No comments:

Post a Comment