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How does one go about researching the UX for applications used by thousands, in dozens of countries

Are you no fan of guesswork, either? Do you prefer to verify the information at source, and if at all possible, delve deeper and find out why? Then you are in the same boat as the crew here at ALVAO.
Markéta Kurucova

23. 8. 2022

It is the mix of these qualities that underpins the development of our products. Our products – Service Desk & Asset Management – are for a relatively broad audience and so have to be as simple as possible. Our philosophy is not to use any complicated instructions. And that’s what user testing helps us achieve. Let’s take a closer look.

What is UX

UX – User Experience, a term much banded about in recent years. Companies are devoting more and more time to this and the number of roles advertised, such as UX designer, UX copywriter, etc. is growing proportionally with their interest.

UX covers a range of terms used to describe the user-friendliness of the application or website, etc. The basis of a good UX is user research, which tells the researcher whether the development team’s assumptions are valid, how people perceive the product and what could be improved.

User research

UX research, or more precisely user testing, focuses on the end user – whether it is a website, an app, or anything else you are making. At ALVAO we do research on the basic and new functionalities of our software and focus on detailed observation of users working with our applications.

We are interested in all the roles encompassed by the product, but also the roles a user can take up: requester, solver, IT technician, accountant, manager and others.

Before testing itself

“What are we testing?” Before the start of testing, we clarify what functionalities we want to test and our own expectations about the outcome.

We reach agreement on what is to be tested with the Product Owner, who has a complete overview. After selecting the functionalities, it is time to set the scenario and the test environment. This is also when we deal with the recruitment of respondents = the users we’ll be testing.

Respondent selection

The choice of respondents depends on the functionalities we will be testing. When it comes to the primary functions, we are looking for respondents who have minimal experience with tools like ours.

We often look close to home – our colleagues’ acquaintances or newcomers to the company are very suitable. For more complex roles, we reach out among our customers. On the other hand, we have found that even an ALVAO experienced IT technician can get flummoxed.


Even an experienced user sometimes gets caught

For example, this can happen if they are used to working with an older solution approach (console based), and then we start testing with a newer version (web app based). The same product dressed in a new coat and extra functionality they have not been using...

Even an experienced IT technician then becomes a first-time user. But we don’t mind that at all. On the contrary, with the benefit of their point of view we are able to create an intuitive environment and at the same time listen to the opinion of an experienced user who uses the tool daily.


How to get customer feedback

Having moved to the cloud, you can test from anywhere, with anyone. This saves respondents’ time, they do not have to travel anywhere, and likewise we are not tied to our own city when choosing a test user – that is why we switched to the online world two years ago. Nevertheless, we are happy to hear the opinion of our customers ‘live’. Our favourite communication channels include our ALVAO Inspiration Day conference we organized every year in April, or the close-working workshops with our customers.

Online testing format

Let’s take a look at our typical testing. When online, we definitely keep a webcam on, as facial expression and reaction often tell more than a thousand words. The next thing is simply to share the screen, check for audio, and turn on recording. Our meetings are planned using MS Teams and are attended by 3-4 people: the respondent, researcher, observer, sometimes even the Product Owner.


online testing format


The user testing process

All the chosen function will get tested within 30-45 minutes. Using a simple assignment, the researcher outlines the problem and then assigns the task, and does not intervene in any way in the work being done. The whole session is about observing and listening.

Not always does everything go according to plan, in a test environment there may be mistakes here and there or the respondent gets into trouble and finds themselves in a wholly different part of the application than intended. If so, we always try to patiently guide the person to where we need them to be.

Although every person is different and testing is never the same twice, 5-10 sessions are enough to bring out any flaws or conversely to bring a pleasant surprise to (almost) everyone, how well something is working out.


Specific example 1

The task was clear enough, change the last number of the value in the field. 4 out of 5 people were afraid to press the backspace key, fearing the entire value would be deleted (as when clicking on the X cross). Understandably enough. In fact, all the characters would not be deleted – but only we, the developers, knew that.


example 1 before testing

Before testing


One simple thing, but a great relief for the user, is that when clicking in the value field, if the whole filed is not highlighted then backspace removes only one character.


example 1 after testing

Modified version after testing

 

Specific example 2

The assignment was deceptively simple and clear – add attachments to a message. Here, 8 out of 9 people clicked on the side drop-down menu and then got lost in how to add the attachment when only able to attach a link. 8 out of 9 people didn’t think that even the topmost text Add Attachment was a command.


example 2 before testing

Before testing


This distinction [between adding an attachment and a link] is given for legacy reasons, but for the ordinary user now it has no meaning and only makes working in the system unpleasant.


example 2 after testing

Modified version after testing


These are just two little gems to illustrate how something seemingly obvious to the developers and technicians may not be obvious to the end user at all.

Things to do after the user research

The next step after testing is to process the collected information. At this stage we work with both our written notes and those from observers, as well as recorded videos. We choose the most interesting passages from our videos – this is to edit into short videos with the highlights, for the company’s use. The videos have thoroughly proven themselves. They last only seconds, but convey the overall impressions of the research.

We do not focus only on our respondents’ difficulties with performing the tasks. We also include parts where users praise something or show they are satisfied – it helps to pass on the positives to colleagues so that they know that their efforts are worthwhile.

Tangible research data

After completing this painstaking work, we have our statistics, videos and graphs, and are ready to present to our colleagues. On behalf of the whole UX team we pass the findings to development. That’s where the next round of design and refinement begins.


UX testing never ends

The product is never considered perfect and finished and we are constantly trying to improve it. User testing is a painstaking job, where we often aren’t looking for major errors but focusing on the finer points and, most importantly, on making the user experience as good as possible. In short, we want our users to say WOW, this product is a joy to use.