• The “Urban Spoon” application for the iPhone provides real-time restaurant recommendations based on proximity to your current location.
rant database irrelevant. In both
cases, users would cancel the service because it just “didn’t work.”
The current suite of usability
methods is inadequate for this
new, enterprise-reliant context.
Testing an enterprise application
is vastly different from testing a
standalone product. How do we
accurately test the usability of
an overall enterprise, like Urban
Spoon, while it’s still in development? How do we ensure it
passes both the ease-of-use and
utility benchmarks that users
require? We could easily test
narrow portions of the application using traditional techniques:
Lab testing could evaluate the
process of entering constraints
or purchasing the application.
We could even test the latency
or resolution alternatives in
a simulation (e.g., is 100-foot
resolution adequate for dense
urban settings? Is the resolution requirement equal in both
urban and suburban settings?).
Unfortunately, the sum of these
narrow tests would not be able to
get at the true value of the service or its real-world usability.
We see sophisticated clients
who still focus their design on
lab testing and scripted usability,
when it’s not really appropriate
for their networked environment.
Certainly, there is a narrow role
for “sanity checking” the usability of each interface within the
enterprise, and there are naive
clients who see “usability testing”
as shorthand for all user-centered design. But scripted usability testing forces the product into
unnaturally small pieces, tested
in series. Worse, it means you
are setting yourself up to miss
the larger design issues (e.g.,
does the latency make the core
idea impossible? Does actual
context of use make this feature
meaningless, or does the size of
the hardware make this product
unattractive?). Lab testing, once
regarded as the gold standard,
isn’t meaningful for most current
products. Products are no longer
“rooted” in singular settings;
they are collaborative, interwoven, and interdependent. To be
accurate and relevant, the testing must be mobile, modular, and
contextual (none of which can be
accomplished in a lab).
With service-based, cooperative enterprise applications, we
are limited to hacked-together
usability methods (i.e., a series
of narrow simulations) or
rough design estimation (i.e.,
a combination of contextual
studies and design research) to
try to understand the benefits
and pitfalls with the system.
And these enterprise challenges are becoming ubiquitous:
location-based services like
Urban Spoon, social-networking
applications like Facebook and
Twitter, or third-party platform
sellers like eBay and Amazon.
We need to replace our narrow usability methods with
rich design methods that can
address these types of enter-prise-design challenges.
May + June 2009