Today was an interesting Weekend Testing session, as they often are. More to the point, it was interesting because we looked at a topic we hadn’t covered in WTA as of yet, usability as it relates to Mobile Devices.

 For today’s session, I decided to take out my Kindle Fire, load up the Facebook app, and see if I could actually make sense of the interface and what it was supposed to have me do. Others used the devices that they had available (and one participant commented that they were rather frustrated that they would have to use their iPhone as they’d much rather use their iPad Mini, proving the point that usability is indeed a moving target).

 One of my first discoveries was that all of my old Messages that I had read on the desktop app were now marked unread. I had to scroll through a lot of messages to make sure how far back we went. In some cases, two years! Needless to say, there’s some variance between what the the mobile app and the desktop app are sharing. Another observation… The side bar controls lists something for “Close Friends”, shows two names, and then is says “More Friends”. As I am expecting it to expand and show me a list of “Close Friends”, instead, it takes me to a listing of news feeds from all of my “Close Friends”. Well, OK, I guess… except what I really wanted to see was a list of who was in that group. Before I got to indignant, though, i decided to do the same thing on my desktop app… and it does the same thing. So yeah, consistent, but still not what I would LIKE to have it do.

 Justin asked us to consider a number of questions as we were doing these exercises: 

Initial Learning:
How did you learn to use the software?
What made the experience difficult?
What made the experience easy? 
What would make the software easier to learn?

For me, the biggest factor was that there are certain “standards” that mobile device designers use, and the more that apps use those standards, ultimately, the “easier” it is to learn. that’s not to say that their system is the best design, but it’s true that, if our experience is consistent, then it’s safe to say that those apps that follow those standards are most likely to be picked up and adopted by lots of people.

Was the functionality easy to recall? why? why not? 
What would make the software more memorable?

Again, with this batch of questions, moving around the app and seeing where it took me was the way to actually understand and get a feel for these options. I am still one of those people who uses the back button to go from page to page, and it’s becoming painfully obvious to me that that paradigm is not very helpful in the mobile space.

Error Rate:  
Describe the errors you made while learning.
What lead to you making these errors?
What helped you to not make errors?
What improvements would help reduce user error rate?

For me, seriously, the error rate is largest simply because I’m not use to touching buttons and hitting keys that are represented as buttons. I’m not very fast, and my hands are not petite. as such I a make a lot of errors. Since I do, I often find myself wishing I could just pull out my laptop and just do what I want to do already. That also may be a simple conceit of my working with what I do and where I do. For many out there, their iPhone is really their only “computer”.

Were you able to use the software in an efficient manner?
 Describe what made the product efficient or inefficient for you.
 How would you improve the efficiency?

This was the toughest area, in that I really don’t find mobile apps to be very efficient, and the biggest reason is real estate. With a laptop screen, I can perform certain tasks in two or three steps. ON a mobile device, I am finding that it requires six to eight steps to do the same thing. Multiply that by lots of interactions, and it’s easy to see why, at least for me, I’m more willing to just wait until I can get on a desktop to do those things. For others, they think and do things differently,and that’s all cool.

Mostly, this was a god session to get a number of testers together and discuss different aspects of usability, and to reiterate and rephrase what Jerry Weinberg said about quality:

Quality is value to some person (that matters).

We can just as easily say the same thing about usability. Usability is value to some person who matters, and in this case the person who matters is “us”. We all will have different impressions about what is usable and what is not. The danger, though, is that we place to much of an emphasis on what WE consider usable. that may work in many cases, but it also may prove to be misleading. What I may find usable may be utterly unusable to someone else. Keeping an open eye and open mind, and getting multiple points of feedback is very helpful in this case.