Aurora Magazine

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Just usable or highly suitable?

Published in Sep-Oct 2019

Ans Khurram on why usability testing is key to digital adoption in Pakistan.

Given the pace of technology, there is increased focus on information communication technology (ICT). Several incubators have sprung up across Pakistan, aimed at developing products that can streamline routine tasks through digital platforms. Apart from social media, applications like Careem and Foodpanda have penetrated into the daily routine of many people in urban Pakistan. As a result, terms such as ‘user-centred design’ and ‘human-computer interaction’ (HCI) have become new buzzwords.

User-centred design aims to ensure that the service focuses on what users need before balancing it with technical and business requirements (typically services are designed the opposite way). This is especially important as we automate tasks because digital platforms need to be intuitive and easy to use in order for people to switch from their existing analogue alternative. To do this, usability tests are conducted on a given product. Simply put, it is a way to see how easy the product is to use by testing it with real users. Usability testing means asking respondents to complete tasks on a given product and then observe where they encounter problems or experience confusion. Based on the results, pain points are addressed by tweaking the features or design of the product. Although usability testing can be conducted for any product or service, I am focusing on digital products such as applications and websites.

Despite market leaders pumping money into usability labs and multiple start-ups providing HCI services, the majority of the digital products designed in Pakistan are struggling with user centric design. A study conducted on the perception among IT professionals on usability highlighted this fact. Among 117 IT professionals, over 90% were aware of usability testing but almost half said that their organisation did not have a specialised team dealing with interface issues, and nor did they have a budget for it. However, these two pain points are among the biggest misconceptions about usability testing. Anyone can do basic usability testing on their own without additional monetary costs. If you are a stakeholder of a digital product, all you need to do is to randomly recruit someone not involved in the development and test whether they are able to perform the set of tasks your product has been designed to do. Then you need to note down the pain points and revisit your app or website and tweak accordingly.

Language plays a critical role in understanding the function of any digital product. Careem do a great job by using local terminology to make their product more relatable. Similarly, icons should highlight their function in a way that is easy to understand.

Steve Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy is an excellent guide for do-it-yourself usability testing. Krug urges stakeholders to conduct a usability test among three different people and at least once a month. He stresses the importance of the product team being present during the test as it provides a reality check by giving a perspective on what the actual market looks like. In my own personal experience, I have often observed a disconnect between the expectations of senior management and that of the actual market.

As easy as it may sound to conduct a usability test on your own, a usability expert should be brought in if possible (Krug begins his book with this caveat). A professional setup allows for value-additions such as gesture recording and eye tracking, which help understand what users are thinking when they test the product. Moreover, an expert will most likely have experienced most of the usability issues beforehand and will be in a position to provide a balanced opinion about how to fix them.

It is also important to note that usability testing only highlights the flaws individual users perceive as pain points for them. When testing a payment platform, it was common for people to complain about having to enter their pin multiple times or having to agree to terms and conditions. Yet, these are the requirements of the regulator and cannot be changed. Given that the end users are not as informed as the developer or designer on the technical aspects, the feedback should be used to tweak the product instead of re-designing it completely.

Language plays a critical role in understanding the function of any digital product. Careem do a great job by using local terminology to make their product more relatable. I was once involved in testing a digital kiosk where the brand team kept the default language as English with the option to change it to Urdu relegated to an inconspicuous location, with the result that the majority of users were frantically searching for the language change option. Similarly, icons should highlight their function in a way that is easy to understand.

The examples given above illustrate an inherent bias that occurs in usability testing and digital product design in general. It is assumed that end users have prior exposure to technology and as a result, these products fail to convert the majority of them as the platform’s value proposition fails to resonate with them. In other words, the new technology fails to cater to their needs in the way their analogue solutions did. This is especially true for social development and innovation solutions that aim to assist lower socio-economic segments in spheres such as financial inclusion or agriculture.

A relevant example is the Digital Financial Services industry (DFS) where an overwhelming majority of users rely on agents or retailers to conduct their financial transactions. Because most people do not properly understand the application or the string code, they are frightened of making mistakes that may result in the loss of their hard-earned money. A study conducted on the usability of DFS digital platforms found that most respondents require some kind of help, even for the simplified versions of the application. The study also found audio help in Urdu to be the most useful form of assistance.

In Pakistan a massive chunk of the market is often overlooked because most digital products are not easy to use. Usability testing helps understand the perspective of the end user and often provides a holistic view of their requirements. As businesses transition into the digital domain, marketers need to ensure that the consumers perceive their products as accessible and usability testing can help provide the relevant insights to do that.

Sources: . A Study on Usability Awareness in Local IT Industry. International Journal of Advanced Computer Science and Applications. (2018) Ashraf, Mahmood & Khan, Lal & Tahir, Muhammad & Alghamdi, Ahmed & Alqarni, Mohammed & Sabbah, Thabit & Khan, Muzafar. 2. An Exploration of Smartphone Based Mobile Money Applications in Pakistan. In Proceedings of ICTD, Lahore, Pakistan (2017). Samia Ibtasam, Hamid Mehmood, Lubna Razaq, Jennifer Webster, Sarah Yu, and Richard Anderson.

Ans Khurram is an insights professional working in the telecommunication industry in Pakistan.