How UX laboratory helps to understand users

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UX Lab inside Mail.Ru Group HQ represents the internal consulting agency. Any developer, designer or project manager can contact us. Depending on the request, we choose the best methods of research, select the respondents and start testing. Such isolation allows us to be abstracted and “equidistant” from all projects, to preserve independence. We are impartial, not interested in any concrete result, as it should be in any objective research.

UX Research today is quite a popular story. Everybody wants a research. Requests are very different: from the test of icons to the definition of the target audience. The most popular is to check “in business” the new design of the application or the site, to find out whether it is pleasant and convenient for users.

Our frequent “guests” are game developers. We interacted very closely with the Skyforge project team – we study how much the players understand the behavior and characteristics of the various mobs, the design of the new site and the trailer for the game. Also tested the game instance. It is important that during the whole instance the player is involved in the process. Playing should be difficult enough to keep the tension. But at the same time the respondent should not lose constantly, otherwise, frustration arises and he leaves the game. That is, we must observe a certain balance of simplicity and complexity. We checked this balance with the help of a device that fixes psychophysiological reactions.

Ксения Стернина ведет юзабилити-тестирование

Subject during the test

Our colleagues from the Media department (“Lady”, “Hi-Tech”, “Movie”, “Auto”, “Real Estate” and others) actively visit the laboratory. For them, we, for example, conducted usability tests of sites with an updated design and also analyzed how people read media.

By the way, in the course of lab studies, it turned out a lot of interesting things. We saw that, regardless of the topic, users have several behaviors. Some, going to the page with the material, read it, paying no attention to anything else, and leave after the completion of the reading. Others read the text selectively and look at photos. Still, others just look at the text, simultaneously catching time to consider everything around.

One of our regular customers is email Mail.ru. For this team, we regularly test new functionality, features of using mobile applications on various devices, icons and much more. In one of the latest studies, we studied the “Mail” iPad-application in terms of human physiology. Such study has not yet been conducted in the world before. In short, we analyzed is it convenient to use  “Mail” app from the iPad in the most typical poses. As a result, a number of problems were discovered. We created a picture of the zones in which you want to have buttons and forms.  So that the owners of this gadget would be as comfortable as possible. We hope that the results will help us improve usability not only for us, but also for other developers, and not only for mail applications. This is a good example of how a study initiated by some subdivision within a company can go beyond a single product.

Usability laboratory Mail.Ru Group occupies two rooms. In the test room pass UX-testings, where people are under the sights of various technical devices. In the observation room, we have a large comfortable couch, where all those who are interested in study results sit and carefully observe what is happening. If it’s necessary, they could ask questions to the moderator who is conducting the test.

Команда наблюдает за тестированием

The team observes the testing

The test room is equipped with devices recording the movement of sight – eye-tracker, which is built-in a large monitor,  mobile eye-tracker and a device that fixes psychophysiological reactions.

Оборудование для экспериментов с мобильными девайсами

Eye-trackers

Since testing in the laboratory doesn’t show us how a person behaves in natural conditions (especially this is relevant for smartphones and tablets), we supplement it with realistic tasks. For example, we use GoPro head strap on a respondent to record video. Since testing in the laboratory doesn’t show us how a person behaves in natural conditions (especially this is relevant for smartphones and tablets), we supplement tests with realistic tasks. For example, we use GoPro head strap on a respondent to record video. A person uses a smartphone with one hand, another hand carries a glass of coffee and we send him/her down the stairs. We also observe how respondent uses the app, do they have any difficulties.

We also organize field research. For example, we go users home to see how they behave in a familiar context and to confirm or disprove the hypotheses we’ve already formed regarding their interaction with one or another product.

Sometimes developers want to find out if there are differences in how people from different country regions use the product. In this case, we resort to remote testing. To do this, we connect with a person using a special program, he shares his screen with us and we record his actions. Surprisingly, sometimes the results of laboratory and remote studies are diametrically opposed.
For example, when we tested media projects, laboratory tests showed that the “Share” button is located very uncomfortable. This button was at the bottom of the screen all the time, even if users scroll a page. Of course, users did not notice it.

We were already going to write in the report that it is necessary to make this button more visible, but the results of the remote testing showed that this should not be done. Due to the fact that most people had small monitors and had a rather low resolution, this button took almost a quarter of the screen and very annoyed users. As a result, the team decided to move the button to the body of the article.

Of course, as in any other sphere, in ours, there are problems associated with the fact that everyone wants to get quick results. Some UX methods are used incorrectly, and thus discredited in the eyes of customers, and even in the eyes of some colleagues. A vivid example is the technique of the characters. It allows you to “wrap” the knowledge revealed in the course of research about the target audience in a beautiful package. That is, based on the results of the research, a character with certain expectations and experience is created, and in the person of this character, customers receive a clear and clear idea of their users. However, in reality, when creating such characters, many began to overlook the most important thing in the methodology – the study itself and began, in effect, to invent personas.

As a result, such a “researchers” often miss and crash: many promising, at first glance, start-ups burn out precisely because of the miscalculation with the target audience.
And even, it would seem, such an indisputably useful thing as eye tracking, managed to discredit due to a dishonest application. So if you want to get reliable results that really make it possible to create convenient and useful products, you need to have people working in the usability lab who understand the scope and limitations of various UX techniques.

Despite all the difficulties, the popularity of UX-studies is growing rapidly. Only in the last month, four colleagues from various companies came to me, asking me how to organize a usability lab at their company. It is hoped that in the near future such departments will also acquire the majority of companies that work with user services.


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