Devices and Desires: Understanding How Users Experience Your Software
When we design, build, test, and deliver software, it is imperative that we provide our users with what they need—not what we want, but what that they want. As user advocate Jakob Nielsen said, you are not the user.
You could be building software for a small group of colleagues. It could be a tightly defined demographic. It could be the whole population. We need to understand the scope and breadth of the user base first, then we need to dig a little deeper. Here are three questions to ask to learn more about how users experience your software.
1. Are these people using our software because they want to, or because they must?
If they must use the software—for example, if it’s a government website that provides the only way of finding information or completing legally required forms—that does not mean we don’t need to think about users’ experiences. On the contrary, it becomes vital that we deliver software and interfaces that make the task as easy as possible.
When people are compelled to use a particular website or other software, a good user experience is imperative; without it, people could experience frustration, lost time, or fines. They lose their goodwill toward the service provider.
We also have to consider that the people using the software may be unskilled with technology, lacking in confidence, or in a stressful and unfamiliar situation. They need guidance, reassurance, clarity, and a lack of IT jargon.
2. Are these people potential customers we must win over?
What do we need to do to tempt users, keep them engaged, and convert them to paying customers? Here it is more obvious that we need to offer an engaging, trustworthy, reliable service. Yet still, it’s easy to make mistakes in what we deliver.
Irritations that mean we will go elsewhere include unnecessary security steps, registration forms that prevent “browse before I choose,” and circular help routes. People want to engage with technology, but they may also be impatient.
There is a continuous cost-benefit assessment that users make across all interactions, particularly online, and sometimes in a split second. It’s about making the goal visible to the user, rather than hiding it behind massive walls. If competition exists, a switch is more likely to happen.
3. Are these people colleagues who will have to use the software we provide?
It’s tempting to think we don’t need to bother too much with usability when it’s our own colleagues who will be using our software. That is a mistake. Poor usability leads to loss of productivity, lowered morale, frustration, and rebellion.
These people have a job to do, so technology that supports them must be transparent.
Usability is vital. We cannot assume that everyone’s desire for technology is the same as our desire. When we design, build, and test systems, we should consider who they are for and adjust interaction patterns, usability attributes (including accessibility), and other software qualities that support those specific users and their primary tasks.
Isabel Evans is presenting the session Devices and Desires: How Do Humans Experience Software? at the STAREAST 2018 conference, April 29–May 4 in Orlando, FL.