Setting the Stage: Creating a Design Mindset Early in Product Development

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Usability studies are created to understand better how real users interact with your product. If done poorly, product developers will have trouble getting the most out of these tests. However, when constructed with the right mindset, this feedback can lead to improved product design and ultimately, better products, faster.

Making the Most of Usability Studies

Successful usability studies derive from a goal-oriented design approach. It is essential to think about how you’re doing these tests, not just what you are doing.

Many times, product developers start with the solution already in mind and then test to get the same results (this is design validation). While validation will let the developers know if a particular feature works or not, it can often discourage them from finding further usability issues.

To truly impact product success, a usability study should look to uncover beneficial design changes (no matter how big or small), not just pat the designer on the back.

Cultivating a design mindset before heading into a usability study can significantly affect everything from how to plan the study, observe the users, analyze the findings, and incorporate results into the product design.

Below are six small, yet powerful shifts in your design mindset that can dramatically improve the output of your usability study:

Turn Pride into Curiosity

It is vital to approach usability studies with a healthy dose of curiosity and a profound ability to withstand criticism. The user doesn’t care how great your technology is, they just want the product to work. They want to feel safe using it, and they don’t want to put in any additional effort to use the product (identification of “barriers to use”). Bringing your own biases to the table will significantly affect how the study participants react to your product, potentially burying useful feedback information.

You Don’t Need to Follow the Regulatory Process for Valuable Feedback (Medical Devices)

This one seems counterintuitive because, for the most part, MedTech organizations are built around the regulatory process. However, regulatory is slow and burdensome. The good news: the regulatory process is not the only way to drive design quality.

You can work ahead and in parallel with the regulatory process. However, it is essential to provide a powerful concept (working prototype) in your usability studies to find gaps in your design or to ensure the product works as intended.

Clinical Tests are Not the Same as a Usability Studies (Medical Devices)

Usability studies have some elements in common with clinical testing. However, they should not be confused. For both, use-related tasks are essential, and both can have one or more defined user groups.

One big difference between the two testing processes is in user training. In a usability study, the user training is realistic—that is, users can have varying levels of training, from none to formal. This variety is meant to mimic a real-world setting and the range of users who will use your product. In clinical testing, users receive detailed instruction and formal training before testing. Likewise, the use environment in a usability study can be simulated, but clinical testing is artifactual and needs controlled conditions.

Most importantly, the key differences are in how user data errors are recorded and whether the test team can intervene during the study. Usability studies rely on real-time observation and subjective user feedback. The testing team will not intervene if a user makes an error because those errors are critical to illuminating design flaws. In clinical testing, data collection is indirect and based on the outcome. A testing team will intervene to prevent users from making errors for safety reasons.

Identify the Right Users

Usability studies don’t require many users. Often five to eight users in each group are enough to yield helpful data. If you have a small group, you’ll want to run smaller tests more frequently to take a cost-effective, iterative approach to product design.

Also, be sure to target the most helpful user, not necessarily the most knowledgeable one. You can identify this helpful user by asking yourself some questions, e.g., Is the user providing valuable insight into your product? Alternatively, are they able to breeze through your test without any errors? Consider that the users having the most trouble with your product might yield the most valued insights.

Moreover, most products have a variety of different user types or groups, so keep diversity in mind when recruiting a range of research participants.

Establish Rigor, No Matter How Large or Small

An adequately designed usability study has a universal understanding of the scope, methodology, goals, participant profiles, any foreseen challenges (and non-challenges), and stats to be collected during the study.

The output is as Important as the Input

Your usability study is only as good as your ability to communicate the findings. Results take time to process and synthesize. To get the most out of your research, keep the following in mind:

  • Present the results visually by leveraging data visualization. It is easier for the human brain to understand data when it is visually presented (versus in numbers).

  • Share the results with your product team and discuss the expectations of the study and any surprises you encountered along the way.

  • Determine whether you have enough useful data to move forward with the design and development process (or if you should test again).

The Right Mindset is Critical

To derive real value from your usability study, consider it a development tool equal to other methods. Approaching them with the right mindset is critical. It might require upending preconceived notions as well as checking egos at the door. While it may take time to complete the study and synthesize results, it will save you time and money in the long run.