There have been several lessons learned around the practicalities of conducting usability and product development. The timing of our project, running across the Summer vacation, meant that representative stakeholders were in short supply and retaining them through the life of the project was also a challenge. This was due to the subject of the project, the qualitative methodology we employed, and its reliance on customers to lead the rapid development phase. Equally, the Summer also presents a challenge to the focus of the project team who were all scheduled to take annual leave at different points. Here we had to ensure that leave periods overlapped a little as possible and that handovers and project meetings through the project phases were detailed, enabling team members to pick up where others left off. Institutional lessons were learnt regarding lead times for equipment and ordering processes for short term projects where quick turnarounds are required.
This project has been an affirmation for the Project Team, if one were needed, of the importance of usability in product development for customer focussed applications. Using a range of usability methodologies was useful in confirming areas to focus on in development rather than relying on a single tool for guidance. Other usability tools such as wire-framing and paper prototyping gave us a very quick way of testing ideas and changes with customers, avoiding the need for lengthy development and programming work. Here we found using Balsamiq software along with some basic Flash ActionScripting helped bring a concept to life for the customers whose feedback we were seeking.
Overall, we strongly feel that it is important to remain focussed on what you had intended to develop. Our qualitative feedback is extremely rich and at times there was an overwhelming temptation to be pulled off at interesting tangents. Those tangents can still be explored and the feedback is equally valid and important but the focus must remain set on the area you have highlighted for initial development.
Having attended the Usability and Learnability workshop, it was encouraging to see the path the UsabilityUK project is taking. The support project would have been a crucial resource for us had it been operational at the time we were pulling our plan together. I have no doubt that future projects will look to UsabilityUK for guidance and support.
In all this, it is encouraging that the customer remains the focus. If we are developing applications for a customer use, surely that customer needs to be a central consideration in its design and function and have a role in design? Usability gives us the tools to place the customer at the heart of development.