Imagine you’re on vacation. You’ve just arrived at your destination and are excited to experience everything this new city has to offer.
You leave your hotel room and head off on foot in the direction of the city’s highly recommended tourist attraction! As you walk towards it, you have to detour a couple of times and become a little lost for a brief period. Eventually though, you find your way again. According to the street signs, the attraction is just around the next corner. You excitedly turn the corner only to suddenly find that the road ahead is ‘Closed’. According to the blinking sign, you’re road-blocked. You turn back to retrace your steps but the route no longer looks the same. You turn another corner and hit another roadblock. Then another. Then another. Now, you don’t know which way to go – you’re lost. If only you could find your way back to the safety of your hotel… This experience of going from initial excitement, to increasing levels of frustration caused by obstacles in your path, to the deflating realisation that you’re lost is likely something we’ve all felt at one point in trying new software for the first time.
First experience testing is the most effective, accurate way to identify roadblocks or obstacles in software that make people feel lost. It involves observing target users who are new to the software you’re testing during their first hour of use. In doing this, you see first-hand what obstacles users encounter in trying to successfully use your application as well as what strategies they employ in trying to learn it.
From past first experience studies that we’ve conducted, we know that a user’s first hour of use with an application is a good predictor of continued use with it. Specifically, if users feel successful after their first hour with it, they are more likely to continue using it. If not, they are more likely to walk away from the product, and will probably not try it again, regardless of the changes you make to it after that time. That’s why making sure our products provide the best first experience possible is so important.
I recently completed a first experience study on Autodesk Maya. After the first couple of tests, we began to see patterns emerging - users were encountering the same obstacles and roadblocks. With these early users, we saw that they didn’t get very far into the application. All got stuck in various modes which left them road-blocked. The modes they accidentally entered changed the way some tools worked while turning new tools on and previously shown tools off. Because of this, most users spent their first hour struggling and all expressed frustration at the end of the session over not being able to accomplish more.
As such, we made design changes and tweaked our prototype between tests, trying to address the problems we saw users encountering. Our goal in designing solutions for the problems we observed was to come up with the smallest changes possible to tackle users’ problems while weighing the benefits our solutions would have against the impact, if any, they would cause experienced users.
As our first experience testing progressed, our relatively minor, low-cost changes were validated. The improvements in how users felt using the software and in what they were able to accomplish compared to users tested earlier in our schedule was remarkable. Users got considerably farther into the application during their first hour with it and instead of being frustrated at the end of their session, were very pleased with how much they’d accomplished. Clearly, even small changes can make a huge difference in a user’s first experience with your software.
Autodesk is always working to put the needs of it users first. First experience studies provide invaluable insight into how we as designers, can learn about those needs and best design for them in order to optimize ease of learning, ease of use and overall satisfaction with our products.