In the book Mobile First, Luke Wroblewski talks about how mobile capabilities, like location detection, accelerometers, and easy access to cameras, mean rethinking how UX design should be done. He also points out, “You only have half the attention from a mobile user, they have ‘one eye and one thumb’ on the situation.”
But how has mobile changed the game for how we should think about user research? The importance of iterative usability remains the same, if not even more important, so the real question is: do we still use methods like lab or remote testing to conduct usability evaluations OR do we need to do something different?
I recently attended a talk at the UXPA 2012 conference called Taking it to the streets, and the takeaways were new, exciting, and powerful. In rethinking how to approach user research from a mobile standpoint, here are a few key things UX professionals should consider:
Mobile user research takes you back to basics
In the last two decades, research teams have built labs with one-way mirrors and used complex recording software to understand a user’s every move in a study. These kinds of setups simulate a user’s workstation closely and provide valuable feedback to the development team. But the same setup may not replicate a realistic scenario for mobile usability. A user sitting at a desk using a mobile phone with complete attention to the task is highly unlikely in the real world. This means we have to consider conducting usability in the field. Evaluating mobile designs in their actual environment and location can reveal interesting insights. In essence, this takes user research back to its roots, where we are assessing user’s goals in their context of use rather than an artificial setting.
Recruit and test at the same time
The key is finding target users in an environment where mobile can be part of their natural workflow. For Autodesk, we are starting to take our concepts to construction sites, manufacturing facilities, factories, architectural studios, train stations, hallways and industry conferences. Impromptu conversations about user needs and quick evaluation of designs in these settings can be highly useful. Users can relate quickly to their own task-at-hand, and can easily assess if the concepts being proposed would be useful in their environment.
The essence of mobile is portability. The same philosophy should be adopted during every stage of the design process. Prototypes, whether they are early sketches or interactive, should be ready for field usage. Below are some examples of prototypes that were taken to the field.
Paper prototype: Printouts used by Anthro-Tech in their study (Slide 29 in Slideshare)
Reduced duration of usability sessions
A recent study shows the average app session time lasts about 1 minute. Instagram founder, Kevin Systrom famously said, "You need to explain what you do in 30 seconds on mobile.” This has implications for mobile design in terms of how to present and provide relevant information quickly and efficiently.
For user research, we have to think of capturing those first few minutes of user experience. The more time users spend using a prototype, the more the data starts to lose its value. It would be ideal to run mobile studies in 15-20 minutes, which works well when you are recruiting users in the field.
Sacrifice recordings for realistic data
In mobile usability, a premium has to be placed on understanding user feedback in context. Recording the session using video cameras may become a distraction to the user in their environment. It can add a layer of complexity which can deter from conducting a quick usability evaluation.
Sacrificing recording can simplify the overall research protocol and make it realistic. This does require the team to be diligent in capturing detailed notes, pictures and audio recordings. Conducting immediate debriefs after the session will become critically important as well.
It is an exciting time to be working on mobile design and research. As technology evolves, adhering to core usability methodologies is important to fully understand users’ goals and behaviors. If you or your company has been conducting mobile user research, please share your thoughts. We would love to learn from you and understand how we can effectively conduct user research for mobile.