Usability Consultancy and Testing - ΩJr. Software Consultancy

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I can help you discover what problem your clients seek to solve. What devices are they using? How can your software help? Do you listen where they talk?

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Location: Howell, NJ, USA
Work Status: US Green Card
Born in: 1973

Usability Plays a Bigger Role Than Ever

With the internet everyone has access to (web) software. But in off-line software development, all the programmer needed to know was the operating system on which the program needed to run. Development environments provided basic usability via built-in controls, and the devices on which the software was used where generally sufficient, similar, and provided by an IT department.

When I started developing web sites (1993) I already knew from my own user experience that some software worked on some operating systems, but not on others, and some operating systems (notably Apple MacOS) provided a better usability out of the box, than others (notably MSDOS and its successor, MS Windows).

But that was not the whole picture. Even within each operating system, some applications would prove easier to use, and others were more difficult. When I started developing software professionally in 1998, very few people cared about usability. I did. And I have done ever since.

Usability as an Added Value

What others cared about was budget. That budget needed to be as tight as possible, for that was part of the sales pitch.

I always thought this was misguided. Usability costs money. It's a quality value. We measure it in profit: higher usability yields faster user acceptance. On the internet, this means measurably more conversions from visitors to users to paid account holders: profit. The opposite is true as well: a worse usability results in measurably lower conversion from visitor to paying user, which results in a loss of profit.

With the internet everyone has access to (web) software. Limiting your software to those users who used the same device (computer, monitor, etc.) as you or your developers, made sure you were excluding part of your potential users. With more and more differing devices being able to access the internet, usability has become so important, that various gouvernments are forcing their gouvernment websites to adhere to usability guidelines like the ADA Section 508.

In all new (web) software I generate, usability is built in by me or under my direction. For web sites this means a mobile-first approach, and responsive designs. Testing the result with real users rather than other developers ensures that we constantly correct our own biases, so we never get stuck with archaic ideas that probably worked well in outdated usage paradigms.

In my professional work I have taken responsibility to make web sites and web apps work well no matter the device someone uses. In most cases this was part of a development project - in some, it was the only assignment in a project.

Having read this far, would you trust a software developer that does not have the ability to test their software across multiple devices?

Usability Services

* I can perform both the automated usability tests and the manual ones such as specified in Section 508, as well as additional device-specific tests.
* Setting up, conducting, and analysing user testing with audience members representing various target user groups, working with people from various cultural backgrounds, speaking 3 languages adequately (English, German, Dutch).
* I can train developers, testers, and support team personnel in identifying and rectifying usability problems.
* Open and closed card-sorts, A/B-tests, interviews, walk-throughs, and analysis of the results, leading to improvement advice.

Biggest Website Usability Problems of 2014

In my spare time I face daily usability problems on the web, and constantly talk to web site owners and managers about them. I also blog about this on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook, as well as my own website:

Failure Notes

Out of these I distilled the following as:

the Most Problematic Usability Issues of 2014

* Advertisements blocking essential functionality;

* Insisting all web form users to upload a document or picture when some devices like Apple's iPad have been unable to allow document uploads since 2010, and then failing to implement a cross-load alternative;

* Failing to include labels on webform inputs, causing people using older browsers to scratch their heads in wonder;

* Making content available via javascript only when some browsers like Opera Mini and search engines like Bing have been unable to parse that javascript, making it so that your target audience never sees your content;

* Forcing international customers to fill out an American-only postal address, and then claiming your customers are stupid;

* Redirecting your mobile-device-using web visitors to a defunct mobile-specific variation of your web site that either does not contain the content / functionality, or simply does not work at all.

Luckily some things have started to improve, too:

* Less content and functionality depends on Flash and other vendor-proprietary plug-ins which are unavailable on devices like iPad and in browsers like Opera Mini;

* Less web sites feature templates that assume large monitors (obviously iPhones and similar smartphones have small screens).

It does not stop at software

Your web care team, your user support team, and your social media team must all be aware of usability issues and guidelines. It has happened several times to me, that a support person completely misinterpreted my issue, causing grievance on my part, and incredulity on theirs. I can train developers, testers, and support team personnel in identifying and rectifying usability problems.

Also: part of usability is a relatively new study named User Experience. This is where a user is guided from one functionality to the next, with each of them sharing the same feeling. Rather than giving all options at once (like MS Word does), the software presents a wizard-like, step-by-step path, with each step being clear in what a user can do and how many steps there still are to take.

This became particularly interesting when web shop owners wanted to know why too many potential customers abandoned their shopping carts. Advertisers also wanted to know why people who clicked their ad did not continue to buy their product or service. In an attempt to solve these problems, User Experience investigates and solves conversion bottlenecks. More about this in the next article: on Full-Stack Speed Improvement


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