Traditional user testing vs micro design evolution (was: The death of web usability testing as we know it?)
2 Jan 2008 - 6:49pm
5 years ago
A great discussion appears to be happening under the original topic. I wanted to further focus it into something I have been thinking a lot about recently. So I have hijacked it and created this new thread. My apologies to Oleh.
I find all of the applications coming out to do quick real time testing of alternate design solutions a great tool to have in our toolbox. But it is just another tool, not a replacement. I see this as a complement (not a supplement) to traditional user research and testing.
If you where to just use these tools to iterate and improve your design, I am sure you will be able to get the best design possible considering the point you started from. Maybe, however, if you started with a very different design your end iteration would perform even better. So, if the only tool you used was a micro-design evolution approach, then you may end up not with the best design possible, but with the best design considering the point you started from. (In mathematical terms, a local maximum http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_maximum).
So how do you get the very best design possible?
If you had all the time any money you wanted, you would build the best designs you could dream of that would cover as much of the design space as possible. You would send small, but significant traffic to each and keep tweaking the design until it was the best it could be. Eventually designs would begin to drop-out because other designs would be performing better. Finally, when you are left with a single design performing better then the rest, then you know you have the best design for that design space.
Of course we have real world issue of making bad first impressions with users (not to mention the unlimited money part). So we can not follow a model like this.
Instead, what we can do, is to develop prototypes of the best design possibilities we can dream up. We run small samples of users through these prototypes and we see which performs the best and which appears to have the best potential upside and most design flexibility. It may not be the design all the users said they liked the best. (What a user says and what they actually think are very different things).
My opinion (In summary)
These analytical tools that are coming out to do micro evaluations of design options are great. They will help you climb that hill to get your design to the best it can be! But, they will not help you pick the tallest hill to climb. It is too expensive to try and climb them all so you need a low-cost method to explore and evaluate the potential of each... a method like low-fidelity prototypes with usability test evaluations.