I haven’t attended many conferences in my life. To be honest, agile conferences disappointed me. Agile 2009 was half boring, half OK with just one mind-blowing keynote by Jared Spool. As you probably assume, he talked about UX. In fact, this talk has changed many things in TargetProcess, as we started incorporating UX into the company culture. And this is the only reason why I can give Agile 2009 a “good conference” label.
We decided to visit UX LX in Lisbon to check whether there’s any difference. I am an expert in agile, but novice in UX. Conferences are good places to re-charge batteries and to fuel vision. UX LX fully met my expectations. It. Was. Cool.
So what I’ve learned? What we’ll try to apply at TargetProcess soon?
Maybe this is a number one and Dan Saffer did a really great job at the workshop. To be honest, brainstorming sessions sometimes were boring at TargetProcess. We used several whiteboards and markers. The process was synchronous. It means one person grabs the marker and writes something on the board. Other people throw out ideas and suggestions. Sometimes it works, but there is a much better way.
It is a very good idea to separate two activities. Brainstorming phase may be asynchronous. It means all people can brainstorm the problem and sketch/write results/ideas. There are several techniques that help. One of my favorite is brainwriting. You have a problem and everyone has a sheet of paper. You have 1 minute to write or sketch anything related to the problem. It may be just few words or a very brief sketch. Then you pass the sheet to the next person and receive a similar sheet from the person at the left hand. You see absolutely new content and have 1 minute to understand it and expand it. Very clever and fun.
Photo by Adaptivepath
Also it is very important to engage everyone. Use wall, sticky notes and paper to break down ideas into groups. Then you may review every idea and decide what to do with it. Group interacts with physical objects and these simple activities boost engagement. Also you may give some simple gifts for really cool ideas. It sounds silly, as Dan said, but this works!
During one session I understood that TargetProcess is (quite) a boring product. It has almost no emotions inside. It should be more emotional and humanish. Out of the box ideas are:
- Use avatars and real people faces
- Use better wording in dialogs, navigation, etc.
- Make it more personalized
Text is important. It is really, really important. If someone looks for information, finds the page, reads the text and has no clue what that mess of words is all about — that’s really bad. You might have a beautifully designed web site, but if the copy was written by a marketer or developer with poor writing skills — it will not be effective.
Eric Reiss ran fantastic workshop on copywriting and showed how poor wording can literarily kill a product.
The truth is that visualization is hard, but if applied well may lead to unexpected boost of satisfaction. There is a lot of data in TargetProcess, but visualization is not so good. Many areas can be improved. We should pay attention to data visualization all the time.
Async Usability Testing
We tried synchronous usability testing on new navigation. It works perfect, but there are less intrusive methods to gather interesting statistic via async usability testing. For example, we can try daily notes or true intent studies. I clearly see how daily notes can be used for installation experience. We just ask a person to install TargetProcess and write everything during this activity (emotions, thoughts, problems). True intent studies may be context-dependent and it is a quick way to gather some interesting data in just a few minutes.
The conference was very good. I feel refreshed and full of new ideas. Also, I feel that in general we are on the right track about User Experience at TargetProcess, but some tactics should be changed.
We live in the age of added value. It’s everywhere. Value-added services, value-added products, value-added goods etc. etc. etc. Actually, so much value has been pumped up in our life, that it’s even strange that this value is not protruding from us like clothes from an overly packed vacation suitcase.
If we take a closer look at the back side of added value, a huge surprise is waiting there. The example I find most notorious is cell phones. What if I want a simplistic cell phone with NO Internet, no camera, even no voice mail, just live calls and SMS? You’ll never ever find such a phone.
I bet that a phone manufacturer who stops the rush for more new features, would make a fortune in an instant selling the “new frugal” cell phones. In this case, the added value is content which comes from Internet, capabilities to exchange content. Why should someone want a phone without Internet? My word, very soon we will see such phones on the market. The niche for them is already there. Here’s why:
More content and more various channels to produce and exchange content is now commonly presented as added-value. Hence, a communication device which happens to be a humble phone is supposed to deliver this value. But as we’re oversaturated with content, no buzz is a huge deal. The luxury of focusing on one thing at a time is something that only a few can afford. Besides, it’d be very frugal (frugal is actually the new buzzword :) to buy a phone for a reasonable price, and sell a used iPhone to some geek. Oh, pardon me. It’s all about iPads now :)
There’re plenty of such examples. Another one: the added value of having a car means lack of natural movement, the necessity to pay for gym etc. It actually brings along the whole array of more added value goods and services that turn out to be not of added value but of less value, since you pay for what you could do naturally.
Take organic products. Now they’re added value. 100 years ago who could have thought that something natural adds value? Now it’s a rollback. What is simple and natural costs more, but has less value compared to the original added value concept for the matter, and the cycle goes on and on.
And we’re nailing it down to our favorite: project management tools. Versatility and too many features now have bounced back to the simplistic Kanban board.
It looks like it’s time to not only practice lean production, but to produce lean products. Gaining focus requires focused tools, one way or another.
Since I started to work for TargetProcess and use the product for my daily working routine, I’ve experienced some problems. One of these problems was navigation. All the links were grouped under sections in primary navigation level or administration level at the top. It took quite long to learn which group of links should I select to find some specific page.
The mind map of old navigation
Later I grew up to an experienced TargetProcess user as I’ve been testing new features or build every day but I still was mistaking the groups almost every time (e.g. trying ‘Tracking’ instead of ‘Planning’ group when looking for Builds list).
Since navigation was the common pain we started to think how we can revamp its look and feel. We wanted it to be flat, customizable, easy to use and quick.
Complaints and requests from other TP users have been considered as we’ve been generating ideas for first wireframes:
We’ve been thinking if we should hide or show the whole group of links as on the screen below:
…and ended up with the concept of customization by links as we enabled users either to pin each single link to primary nav tab or to keep the link in ‘More’ group, create their own groups and rename the links:
All these wireframes emerged after long meetings, hot debates and multiple changes.
As a result, by mid-January ’10 we’ve had two different navigation concepts ready to be shown to some customers, members of TargetProcess UX group. We asked the customers to review two navigation concepts implemented as dynamic and static PDF and give us their feedback on both.
Here’s the first navigation concept:
- One-level menu for quick system navigation.
- Configurable tabs order.
- Quick access to all pages grouped logically in “More” pull-down menu.
- Easy-to-use advanced tuning mode.
The second navigation concept:
- Two-level menu.
- Configurable tabs with the possibility to re-group links.
- Easy-to-use advanced tuning mode.
Most of our customers-UXers voted for the first concept and we went along with this design. Development of dynamic prototype was started simultaneously with the nav coding so we had usability test results available by the end of implementation.
Dynamic Prototype and Usability Tests
We wanted to run a usability test with our customers as early as we could and the interactive dynamic prototype for navigation was ready in a week (with IxEdit). The prototype replicated TargetProcess tool and was available on the web. Not like in the real web app, there were just screenshots with static pages:
In this proto users were able to navigate from page to page and to customize links selection for their primary nav menu. The only major thing at that time was re-ordering of pinned tabs which didn’t work in the proto.
Test scenarios were rather simple:
- As we drastically changed the layout and re-grouped some links, we wanted to check if users will find particular pages easily with new navigation . So the first scenario was about simple pages browsing.
- The second scenario was related to the customization of primary navigation level.
We asked our customers from the UX community to take part in the usability testing of new navigation, and four of them agreed. The testing was done via GoTo meeting.
Usability Tests Results
Based on the results of this testing, we’ve become aware of some areas in the navigation where users slowed down.
Most of the users who saw the nav for the first time tried to drag and drop links right away and guessed slowly that tuning and re-ordering tabs works in customization mode only. After customization was done, they forgot to switch customization mode off. Also we noticed that [Reset to default] button appeared uncalled, so it was removed in the final version.
That’s why we went on and tried to emphasize with different styles when navigation is in customization mode and when not.
Now the highlighted menu background under the button [Customize] shows that the button should be pressed to start tuning (customization).
That’s what one can see in the tuning mode (check the screen below):
- [Customize] button disappears; yellow background rolls up to the primary nav level where [Done] button appears.
- Only the primary nav level and ‘More’ menu are active, content of the page is grayed out and disabled.
- Links selected for relocation in ‘More’ change their background from white to solid blue; mouse cursor changes shape to cross.
We believe that it’s hardly possible to mess up with the navigation modes now. The navigation is quick, one-level and simple for personal customization.
And – what’s most important – people like it as well. Out of many feedbacks, here’s just one from Igor France:
I have just installed the latest version of Target Process with the intention to start using it on my own projects (the company I worked for at the time didn’t adopt it) and I am again really enjoying using it! Apart from the positive things already mentioned, the main navigation itself in the meantime not only stopped being confusing but is now fully customizable as well!