Friday, September 16, 2011

Lacking an Understanding of Psychology Can Doom Your Efforts

Mobile devices are inherently interdisciplinary and one would hope that the design and development of them would include a solid understanding of psychology by their creators. But it may not always be so. A few days ago I was in a car with a friend, trying to use her Android to obtain GPS coordinates to a place we wanted to go up in the mountains. If you read my earlier post that included a venture to a Verizon store, you recall that I had a fairly dismal experience trying to investigate the Android. So this was my first experience trying to use an Android in a live situation under some mild pressure (we needed to figure out where we were going before we reached the limits of cell and satellite coverage). I had a heck of a time trying to figure out the UI (User Interface) on the device. All these cool apps covering a wide range of useful tasks and I finally put down the phone in frustration and we headed up the canyon using old fashioned biological GPS (Guidance via Perceptual Sense-making)

My user experience with the Android was terrible. I wondered how the designers and developers had conducted their user research prior to developing the interface. Case in Point: The little magnifying glass on the Android does not Zoom in and out. With a magnifying glass right there in front of you, and used for zooming on other applications, who would intuitively think to do that funny expanded swooping maneuver with your fingers? Who came up with that idea? I'd be willing to bet it wasn't the potential users (someone please, correct me if you have evidence otherwise, as I'd love to hear about the origin of that particular feature of smart phones). Did the product team conduct live interviews and focus groups for example? If so, how did they pose their questions and / or perform their observations?

You have to apply some psychology to the process if you want to produce effective products. Understanding the psychology of human interaction dynamics is important when conducting any type of user, client or student interview, observation or research. It is all too easy to unintentionally lead the conversation or activities and thus bias the information you are gathering. At that point you see what you want to see, and it filters into your end product.

If you want to collect data that is as free as possible from your own perspectives, you have to be on the ball. This applies to usability work, and broader user experience investigations as well.

  • Human interaction dynamics will lead someone to want to agree with their conversational partner if they feel that person is of higher status or in a position of power in some way. This can happen on a subconscious level. You the interviewer or observer have to be alert to not letting on what your hopes are for what you see and hear or what your opinion is of what you see or hear. You say "What was hard about that?" and the other person will look for hard items even if they didn't experience any. Contrast that question with "How easy or difficult was that"? The latter provides no clue as to where you might stand on the ease or difficulty of an experience.
  • You want to appear non threatening and personable in an interview without falling into the "friend trap" of holding a conversation where you will naturally dominate the conversation because the other people view you as the dominant party. Ask their opinions and for expanded explanations and avoid sharing your own - smoothly. If asked your opinion, here is a Bad Way to do respond: "I don't want to share my opinion on the ease of use of XYZ. My opinion isn't relevant here". True, but a real put off and conversation stopper. Worse Way to Respond: "I find it easy to use." Now the user feels stupid or perhaps condescended to and is likely to change their responses to not look stupid, or change their responses by simply giving up on sharing with you on that topic. Better Way to respond and redirect: "I am still forming opinions on that subject. Could you tell me more about what you think (feel) about XYZ?" This approach is accurate (you are forming opinions as you gather data) and redirects the conversation back to them and their experience.

You can try out your use of psychology in a computing context: pick a device or system you own, give it to someone else to use and see how much information you can obtain from them without dominating the conversation or guiding their answers them with your opinions. The person doesn't have to be brand new to using the device or system. although that can make your job easier.

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