Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bringing Lean UX and the Design Charette to Testing

Last night I decided to explore a different element of testing. While I consider myself a strong proponent of User Experience (UX) testing, outside of a couple of books on the topic (specifically Steve Krug’s books “Don’t Make Me Think” and “Rocket Surgery Made Easy”), I haven’t really sought out or communicated with a community that made UX a priority.

I had the chance to attend the San Francisco Lean UX Meetup group. One of the organizers, Zach Larson, is SideReel’s Director of Product Management (former Chief Product Officer before SideReel’s acquisition by Rovi Corp.). Zach was instrumental in convincing me to make the move over to SideReel, so I was excited to see this group that Zach was involved with. In many ways, Zach’s passion for great design and UX matches my enthusiasm for testing, so I felt confident that there would be a treasure trove to mine from such a group setting. I was not disappointed.

The primary focus of the meetup was to hold a “Design Charette”. For the record, I had never heard this term before last night. A Design Charette is an approach to addressing a design challenge and having a group address the challenge in a structured but kinetic manner. There’s a lot of movement, ideas, and fast thinking. To my surprise, the topic of the Charette was SideReel’s Calendar and Tracker page! This was interesting in that I was faced directly with the idea of contributing design ideas to a product that I actively work with. Many concerns immediately came to my attention. Could I give an unbiased feedback to suggestions? Would my involvement with the product from a test end cause me to give prejudicial advice? What feedback could I as a tester give in this scenario? At first I held back and let the designers “do their thing”, but over time I found that I could provide feedback that helped inform our small breakout groups design ideas.

We were given the task of coming up with five ideas to address the problem… and we had to do it in five minutes! For the record, I barely mocked up one idea in that time, but many in our group were game to the challenge and effectively knocked out five or more ideas in the time limit. Many of those ideas on further review and examination were discarded, but several of the ideas were considered and built upon in the second part of our evaluation, and ultimately a cool approach to a potential redesign was submitted to the rest of the attendees (who likewise shared their ideas). What I found interesting was the rapid pace of this design approach. In many ways this is the Agile ideal of “fail fast and fail often” applied to design. Sure, many ideas were discarded, but many elements of other designs were considered, and ultimately, each team came up with what I felt were compelling design ideas.

So what could I, from a tester’s perspective, take from this experience? First, I think I cling too tightly to some ideas of how to approach a problem. This may be in part because I’m a Lone Tester at SideReel, but also because I’m used to the idea of forming ideas and waiting for them to gel. This idea of a Design Charette for testing is interesting. Generate as many ideas in a short time frame as possible, then after that time period, discuss the approaches and discard the weaker ideas in favor of those that will be stronger. Get feedback from others who may or may not specifically be testers (some non-designers were able to provide great feedback to their groups, so accept that some of the really good test ideas may come from non-testers, too).

My thanks to my hosts for a very educational experience, and my thanks to Zach especially for letting me invade his space for an evening. I learned a great deal :).
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