On Applications User Experience Usability Labs

February 13th, 2013 Leave a Comment

Having been at Oracle in Applications development for a really long time, I’ve heard about the Applications User Experience Usability Labs.

In the past, the labs have always been a blindspot for me and a bit of a mystery, but now that I’m a member of Apps UX team, I have the opportunity to see the labs in action. Last week, I got the chance to do just that and observe a session.

The experience was eye-opening and is one that I thought was worth sharing.

Bringing users into the design and development process early is critical to ensuring that what you’re building is actually something they want (or can) use. During my time in consulting, I had the opportunity to work side-by-side with users, tailoring their applications to do exactly what they wanted, even down to button position, tab order, field labeling, even color and font choice.

These sessions left a lasting impression on me and have helped guide my later work in development, especially with respect to feeling empathy for frustrated and happy users.

Bottom line, there’s nothing like watching the joy and pain your software causes users.

Anyway, getting back to the Usability Labs, the session I observed was virtual, although users can come into the lab and sit in a room to interact with the software being tested. The labs are very high-tech, with a staged area, designed to mimic a typical cubicle or office setup for the participant, and a control room, where the usability engineers guide the user through the test steps, observe, ask questions and log feedback.

The virtual session ran in much the same manner, using a web conference.

The whole process took just under two hours, with lots of time to talk to the user about impressions, feedback, suggestions, all the important information we need to know about what we’re building.

Although I haven’t participated in the design and development of the product tested, I had several ah-ha moments where the user went off course or was confused due to what I’m pretty sure were design decisions, very useful feedback to get before a product launches. Similarly, when the user was happy or satisfied with the product, I knew that would make product team happy.

Although I only went to one session, this particular product was being tested by several different users over a two-week period, and the aggregate feedback will definitely help the product team understand where their design works and where it could use some tweaks.

All-in-all, it was a very valuable way to spend a couple hours. Thanks to Luke and company for allowing me to eavesdrop.

So, if you’re an Oracle Applications user, I highly recommend signing up to participate in a lab. Apps UX runs sessions at user group conferences and at OpenWorld, plus you can get involved virtually.

Depending on the product, there is some vetting to ensure that you’re a good candidate, e.g. if you’re an accountant, you might not be a good test user for CRM. However in some cases, you don’t even have to use Oracle to participate.

If you’re interested, check out the UX Customer Participation Program for more details, or if you’re at a conference and see Apps UX people there, ask about how you can participate.

Find the comments.

Update: I’ve been informed that the Applications UX labs are also open to other products outside Applications, e.g. Fusion Middleware. So, even if you’re not an enterprise applications user of Oracle or otherwise, you may be able to help Oracle product teams test their stuff as well. Good to know.


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