Consumer audiences are diverse. We had to keep this in mind when user-testing 123D™ Sculpt, the 3D, touch-driven, iPad sculpting app pictured above, and the latest application in the Consumer Group product line. We tailored our experimental protocol to test if Sculpt could really serve the opposing user populations we anticipated: recreational designers vs. the professionals who lean toward more powerful applications like Maya®, Mudbox™, Inventor®, and AutoCAD®.
Why does this matter from a user experience standpoint?
Working in the consumer market, if an application is powerful but requires a lot of instruction to start using, you risk losing your casual user base. If the application is easy to dive into but sacrifices higher level functionality to achieve that ease-of-use, it may turn away consumers who see the application as a stepping stone to beginning their professional career. In order to straddle these two demographics, you need to engage your user the second they delve into the application, and nestle advanced functions deeper in the interface.
When asked if this is a typical struggle, UX designer, Greg Fowler, said:
“When you try to build your application for as broad a group as "engineers", then various professionals come to you asking for specialized features, and they’ll tell you that a thousand people like them want the same. If your application is cluttered with dozens of these features, then the average user will have to learn complicated unfamiliar workflows. But consumers pick up our apps because they want to enjoy the experience. If they're not enjoying themselves, we’re not succeeding.”
In testing, some of the users saw Sculpt as a game while others saw it as an introduction to professional prototyping. Playful users wanted to show off their work and share it on social networks. Professional users wanted to export their files, customize the interface, and integrate Sculpt with 3d printers to prototype their ideas.
On the other hand, testing revealed that for both children and adults, for both seasoned 3d modelers and for users who can’t tell a spline from a line, many usability problems were universal. Analyzing our twenty-five sessions revealed that the novices and experts agreed on a surprising majority of the design errors. This demonstrated that ‘straddling the divide’ can produce consistent, meaningful results.
“I hope this feedback helps you and Autodesk achieve the best apps possible!”
Mitchel and Participant 18
Fourteen years old, articulate, and a mind reader when it comes to predicting other users’ opinions, Mitchel isn’t alone in his support of the Consumer Group’s design ambitions.
Aside from his charming enthusiasm, Mitchel offered insight into how users younger and older than him intended to use Sculpt. He intuited what they wanted from what he wanted despite being fourteen with no modeling experience. If we had followed our instincts and screened for modelers and experienced iPad users we would have missed this middle schooler’s sharp insights.
But if we had screened out Autodesk’s more technically proficient employees to match the general population, we would’ve missed such valuable input as:
“I can see that as new users get more familiar with Sculpt, they’re going to want to create basic forms and maybe merge them together, pushing and pulling different surfaces. This is a great way to introduce them to modeling and get them interested in our desktop apps.”
The fifty-year-old Autodesk architect, with years of modeling experience, accurately intuited what all of the kids and three-fifths of the novices would criticize – the inability to drag, drop, cut, or create shapes. In other words, Participant 18, like Mitchel, could sleuth out what users unlike him expected from Sculpt.
Ultimately, if we had tested just one of these demographics, we would have missed a sizable chunk of our user market. And any differences in opinion can impact where we take our applications as much as agreement across different demographics.
Should we have tested the way we did?
To answer that question, you first need to know how we tested.
- We recruited a mix of children and adults, novices and expert modelers, employees and external volunteers.
- One fifth were children, two fifths were Autodesk employees, and three fifths had little to no modeling experience.
- All 25 participants had used or owned an Apple touch device before volunteering.
- We split the participants into two test protocols, one with help content, and one without.
It’s difficult to conclusively say whether these protocols adequately served our user base. What we do know is that our testing and analysis helped guide our help content, by prioritizing the features that users struggled with the most.
The tests delivered critical feedback and insightful complaints. Sampling broadly across age groups and skill levels helped represent our diverse user market. Categorizing users and their feedback helped identify distinct patterns. And the overall process demonstrated that we could tailor systematic user testing to a consumer product.
When Sculpt finally launched in August, it placed third in iTunes’ free-app category.
These outcomes suggest that recruiting from diverse user groups helped make Sculpt a success.