Thoughts on product design + user experience

An agile alternative to the ponderous usability test (video)

Written by bbb on June 18, 2007

I have a love/hate relationship with usability testing. I love the feedback it generates, but I hate the administrative make-busy work that surrounds it, especially when a test takes on a life of its own and becomes <shudder> an Event. When that happens, teams begin treating usability as an end in itself instead of as a design tool, its proper designation.

At last week’s 7-Minute Soapbox in Waterloo, I briefly introduced an exercise I’ve come to love called the design checkpoint. Design checkpoints are non-events. They are simple to prepare for, even simpler to conduct, and let designers sit down with customers to get useful feedback. In my talk’s title, I hint that checkpoints are an alternative to usability testing, but more accurately I see them as a complement. Checkpoints fill the gaps between usability tests — gaps that may otherwise feel more like gaping voids.

In this video, I introduce the philosophy of design checkpoints and briefly describe their three flavors: the discovery checkpoint, the exploration checkpoint, and the validation checkpoint. We strictly enforced the time at our 7-Minute Soapbox, so discussion of the specific activities performed for each was cut short. For instance, if you watch the video or check out my slides, you might wonder why exploration checkpoints are illustrated with the photo of a blazing inferno: it’s because one of the activities I like to perform is called “Trial by Fire”. It’s completely unfair to the customer with whom I’m sitting (and I freely admit this to them, which actually puts them at ease!), but it works well: simply hand someone the prototype or sketches you’re wanting to explore and ask them to explain it to you. With no orientation. Unfair indeed, but people’s attempts are quite enlightening.

Thanks to Slideshare, you can follow the slides as you watch the video.

Do you perform activities similar to design checkpoints? Leave a comment to describe how it’s worked for you.

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