Understanding the art of usability

The end user experience of enterprise and web applications has often taken a back seat to design or development concerns, but organisations in the region are starting to understand the importance of usability

Tags: E-commerceRed Blue Blur Ideas (rbbideas.com)
  • E-Mail
Understanding the art of usability (L-R) Devesh Mistry and Amol Kadam, founders of Red Blue Blur Ideas.
More pics ›
By  Mark Sutton Published  August 15, 2013

The discipline of user experience (UX), assessing and tailoring applications and web assets for their usability, is relatively unheard of in the Middle East, although that is changing, according to the founders of the digital consultancy Red Blue Blur Ideas (RBBI). While usability engineering, a mixture of behavioural psychology and computer engineering has been around since the mid-1980s, it is still a very small field; user experience, which puts more focus on human experience using an application, emerged later, driven mainly by the need for efficient web design and the extension of computing over diverse platforms such as mobile, and has until recently had very little exposure in the Middle East. Now, however, there is a steadily growing interest in UX and usability in the region, including from enterprise organisations, which was a leading factor in founding RBBI, according to Devesh Mistry, digital technologist, director and co-founder.

“We realised one of the key things that was missing in this market, is that everyone was looking at digital from a very marketing angle, no-one was actually adding value to digital, in a real way, as simple as being able to make user-friendly websites. For example, how long do you spend paying a bill online? It is something that is supposed to be convenient for users, and at the same time, they should enjoy using the interface.”

It is a small field — in the Middle East, RBBI is the only agency accredited by the User Experience Professional Association (UXPA), it is also the only Middle East member of the UX Fellows network, which focuses on global user experience research, and the agency employs four Certified Usability Analysts, out of just a handful working in the region at present.

While the UX discipline is primarily focused on web applications, there is increasing awareness of the need to focus on usability of enterprise applications as well, and the company has been involved in a number of engagements to assess and enhance the usability of internal enterprise applications.

Amol Kadam, creative strategist, UX director and co-founder of RBBI explained: “When we looked at the market, we saw there are two types of companies that work in the region — pure technology companies, where the IT people develop the intranet, the call centre scripts, anything that is not end user facing. The other part of the business is the digital marketing side — there are so many agencies who will do microsites and apps and those sort of things, but there was no agency that could look at the technology side of things, and the aesthetics of the user side of things, and marry them together to give an experience that is technologically very sound and that serves the business proposition, but at the same time is not dry and boring, which most of the IT solutions are. We saw the need to bring ERP solutions and other back-end heavy solutions, and give it a facelift from the user’s point of view.”

The tools for assessing usability are varied. While design, particularly for things like company websites, is subjective, the discipline aims to understand exactly how a user interacts with an application. The company uses Eye Tracker devices, from Tobii Technology, which use projection patterns and optical sensors to gather data about gaze direction or eye movements as a user interacts with an application. By being able to see where people are looking, and through heat maps that show where focus in concentrated, the consultant is able to gain an insight into the user’s mind as they perform certain tasks.

Usability also looks at things such as the number of steps required to complete a process, labelling of buttons in an application and other steps to optimise the procedures. End user questionnaires are also commonly used to assess the experience.

Kadam highlighted the example of an online dashboard, which had been created for agencies, advertisers and publishers for mobile ad-serving. The dashboard had been put online by the IT department of the agency that owned the platform, but it was facing a lot of user resistance, and the agency was receiving 25-30 support calls per day. Through the use of the Eye Trackers, RBBI was able to analyse how the users were interacting with it, and identify key problems with the platform — mainly due to a focus on development over design when the platform was put online. Once the dashboard had been optimised, support calls dropped to four to five per day.

Usability studies can also identify unusual issues that might be impacting on performance. The company recently carried out a usability study for a news channel that was using a bespoke Arabic font on its website, Mistry explained: “The font was brilliant in print. We conducted tests on the legibility of the font, developed the same page in three different fonts, and analysed it using the eye tracker. The readability of the font was not there — it was taking 18-20% more time to read the text than with other fonts.”

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code