Summary

On this project I was primarily responsible for research.

  • Conducted ethnographic research and task analysis to understand users and their domain, and to find gaps between user goals and legacy systems.
  • Continuously performed user research and testing to provide insights that supported the design, resulting in a near-doubling of usability scores.
  • Created virtual tools to support research efforts.
  • Communicated research findings to the project team.

Project Background

Our client fielded teams of workers who provide services to sets of customers. Each customer interaction had to be carefully documented, and each customer’s case meticulously managed in order to provide that customer with the proper services. Layered on top of this were the complexities of tight regulation, third-party vendors, and other systems maintained by the client.
Our job was to create a versatile tool to enable geographically distributed workers in various roles–as well as their team leads–to successfully coordinate and manage customers’ cases and document customer interactions.
My role was to conduct research with users.

Initial Investigations

To understand the needs and activities of our users, my team and I conducted phone interviews and focus groups, as well as contextual inquiries in which we listened in on morning phone meetings. Detailed notes from these investigations were supplemented with knowledge I had acquired from earlier research with the same set of users, then organized into personas, workflow diagrams, user stories, and an affinity map. These artifacts provided a visual reference of who our users were, what they were trying to do, what problems they faced, and how they dealt with them. The user stories were translated to the project manager and guided the actual building of the system.

affinitymap
Data from interviews, focus groups, and contextual inquiries was organized into an affinity map that looked like the one pictured above. (Source: cristihagen.com/images/affinitymap.jpg).

We were also careful to glean from our inquiries a sense of the users’ culture and values, and these were incorporated into design considerations.

Recurring Inquiries

Over the life of the project my team and I planned and conducted various types of research inquiries. The type of inquiry was determined by the research goals, which emerged both from the initial investigations and iteratively from the research/design feedback loop.

  • Phone, video, or email interviews. Goal: learn about the users’ domain, workflows, organizational structure, or ethnographic questions.
  • Concept tests. Goal: gather feedback on early design ideas, typically using wireframes or non-interactive prototypes.
  • Surveys. Similar goals as interviews and concept tests, with larger sample sizes to support the reporting of quantitative data.
  • Usability tests. Goal: gather feedback on mature design concepts, typically using interactive prototypes.
  • Timing studies. Goal: collect quantitative data about the usability of various systems, typically with an aim at comparison between systems.
  • Heuristic evaluations. Goal: validate design solutions and uncover opportunities; increase situation awareness between the development and UX teams.

To facilitate these inquiries I created streamlined Excel templates for organizing the discussion guides and concatenating research data. These allowed us to more efficiently moderate the sessions, record feedback, and formulate data, which in turn made it easier to write reports and disseminate key findings to the rest of the project team.

Results

We administered a System Usability Scale (SUS) to measure the usability of the legacy system our product was replacing and, using interactive prototypes, of various iterations of our designs. The legacy system scored 44.5 out of a possible 100; our system scored 72 within the first 3 months, and as we further implemented our designs the score rose to 88.

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