Poor usability is a form of tech debt

If you’ve worked in software development for a while, you may have noticed that work on usability gets postponed more often than work on new features and functions. You could see this as a form of tech debt. It accumulates with every release.

What contributes to this accumulation?

  • Timing. Some usability issues aren’t identified until Alpha testing with customers begins, or until after the product is released.
  • Competition. There’s often pressure to leap ahead or catch up with competitors by adding new features and functions.
  • Budgeting. If multiple teams compete for a share of the development budget, something shiny and new may attract more funding than boring old maintenance, upgrades, and tech debt.

It’s not an either/or proposition. With every release you can give your product a bit more usability. And you can do this at a low-to-moderate cost and low-to-moderate risk.

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An expert review using heuristics versus a usability study

User researchers like to see products in the hands of users, and they like to analyse quantitative and qualitative data. But they also use heuristic methods, such as expert reviews, done without a user in sight.

Expert reviews are a shortcut that rely on a usability analyst’s expertise to identify gaps in a product when compared to a set of guidelines or heuristics.

You may have come across these heuristics:

  • Jakob Nielsen’s 10 general principles for interaction design.
  • The Agile manifesto’s principles, which also apply to software usability.
  • Jeremy Lyon’s five visual design principles that reinforce the software’s use and meaning.
  • A corporate style guide that sets out how to reinforce a brand’s visual presence.

I decided to use Lyon’s five visual-design principles to assess an online app that I worked on with a team of developers and user-interface designers. Would the expert review contradict or complement the findings of our usability research on the same product? Continue reading “An expert review using heuristics versus a usability study”

Divergent thinking and collaboration

Divergent thinking—thinking in an unusual and unstereotyped way—*is what’s needed in software design. Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity—it’s an essential part of creativity. It is the ability to see:

  • lots of possible ways to interpret a question
  • lots and lots of possible answers to a question.

User-experience designers engage in divergent thinking when they explore multiple ideas and try to “saturate the problem space.” But your entire development team can benefit from this—and save your project months of rework.

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