A Splendid Story About Stars And Usability

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The app

StarsSome time ago I was asked to make some improvements to an app. It had 4 stars already on the market, but who does not want to get better is simply out of the business. That was the credo of the man that tasked me with this project. Let’s not get into the apps details, that won’t matter much for the process. Let’s just say it was built for some extra document editing possibilities and divide it into 4 primary sections:

  1. Authentication
  2. Welcome Screen
  3. Document creation screen
  4. Document editing screen

Pretty much all with points 2 and 4 was well, otherwise the app would’ve never got the 4 stars it possessed. Thus the largest changes were around the Authentication and Welcome screens. That’s where users were facing the largest amount of uncomfortable issues.

To business

So I got the chance to play with it for a while. Before I even started the process my first thought was User Testing. So I gave it a go. That was the seemingly reasonable way of finding out where the app is shining and where do issues pop up. There are lots of resources available as for now that serve as assistance in user testing. So I used the one that provides me with videos of users interacting with the application. Thus it is easy to see the biggest issues. That is not the only option available on the market. You can ask users required questions or whatever. The methodology of this aspect is also not too relevant, all of them have their strong sides. It’s just that I was using videos for this particular case.

Testing interfaces on thousands of users is not something you would want to do. First of all you will never find all the issues. Secondly, even a few is often enough to make a noticeable difference.

The app was about editing documents. Thus our users were running through a typical session of creation and editing of the doc. Then I watched every gained video twice. The first one was just to get a glimpse of how stuff is working. The second, more attentive one – to get the work plan. Videos make the issues noticeable when you know where to look. Let’s go through some examples.

  • The user pauses for a few seconds without any reason for doing so (it means he is lost)
  • User trips and/or has to do some back-tracking in order to succeed with his operation
  • Expresses frustration you may notice while watching (you are hearing him mumble or whatever)
  • Takes the longer path to the goal than you’ve been expecting him to
  • Fails at what he was doing

This is, of course, not a complete list of signals you may get. The more tests you run in small groups, the more issues you will resolve. But remember not to get carried away. All bugs are never to be found. Even for Master Yoda (with all the regards and respect to Master Yoda).

So what was gained from User Tests? 

The major problem was authentication screen. Users were not sure whether they are ‘signing up’ or ‘signing in’. The screen involved lots of backtracking and uncertainty. Some other trouble took place at:

  • The part of page creation. It was way to repetitive. You had to constantly keep adding pages with separate clicks. That was a bit meaningless as well as irritating.
  • The doc’s creation date was not editable. You could add a date to the doc. But you could only add todays date. Thus the feature was too restrictive as for me (as well as other users).
  • Some other minor issues that did not require immediate attention.

Thus, knowing what needed to be done it was only a matter of practice for the team to crack those nuts. And the app is now proud with its earned 5 stars.