Saturday, June 20, 2009

Concept and Usability Testing

This post comes from a conversation I had with a colleague today about outcomes of usability and concept testing. As consultants or employees, we are hired/asked to test a particular product or service and report on the outcomes.

Many times, we can certainly report on the outcomes, but the real issues lie well beyond usability testing. Case in point, medication compliance. For the last 4 years, I have been looking at medication compliance. Many companies want to create better packaging, reminders or systems that will remind patients to take their medication. So often, there are extenuating circumstances at play. No reminder, no matter how large, loud or persistent can make a patient take his/her medication.

What pharmaceutical companies don't usually want to hear is that there are larger issues at play. Side effects: What about all those medications that make you dizzy, nauseous, cause anal leakage, loss of libido and perhaps a rash. Great! At least your depression will go away and you won't care about these side effects!

Finances: It's no surprise, more and more people are without health insurance. Yes, you can juggle your finances to a point, but the cost of medication is often not seen as a critical expense (though it very well may be.) However, without food for sustenance and a roof over your head, the medication can be rendered useless anyway.

Medical literacy: A patient decides s/he can handle the side-effects and has money for the medication. The patient nods and smiles as the doctor and then the pharmacist explain the best way to take the medication. At home, later that day, those memories are gone and the patient is faced with a pill bottle or jar with limited instructions. The patient then begins taking the medication to the best of his/her memory, but forgets or doesn't understand the small print labels on the bottle. Patients often take their medications out of the pharmacy bottle so the directions are nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, the patient has decided on a routine that is not optimal for medication delivery.

These are just a few of the larger issues which significantly effect medication compliance. But medication compliance is just a sample problem to illustrate a point. We need to talk with our co-workers and clients, people who design and sell products and services and be sure we are all spending our time and money asking the right questions, not just the questions in the budget line. Usability testing can be "lipstick on a pig" providing changes to an already broken product or service, or it can provide significant insights to adaptation and acceptance of the right product or service.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Networking Tip #2

This week I've spent umpteen (too many to count) hours volunteering, learning and shmoozing at the Usability Professionals Association conference. Conferences are always great places to hone your networking skills. On Wednesday, I accidentally discovered a new one.

I was looking for a woman who did a great presentation. While at one of the breaks, I thought I spotted her (dark square glasses, cute haircut) and called her name out and went up to her. Well, nope, it turns out that person was Carissa and I was looking for Christina. However, Carissa, as eager to meet a new friendly face as I was. She and her partner Manos stopped, and we talked for about 10 minutes. They own Circle D Design in Ann Arbor, she does usability work...etc. Voila! One more stranger is now a frient/colleague/someone I can smile and nod at during the conference and perhaps have a business relationship beyond that with them one day. It's almost too easy.

After this encounter I was joking with friends about how funny and easy it was. We compared it to a guy trying to pick up a gal in a bar, "Haven't I met you somewhere before?" Apparently, it works at conferences too. Try it!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Networking Tips - Listen First

Although the focus of this blog is largely research based, as a small business owner, I reserve the right to share business tips as well! This post falls into both categories. 

Several people have asked me in the last few weeks, "How do you network?" It's not an easy question to answer. It's someting learned over time and almost 20 years of on and off consulting *gulp*. 

However, the one suggestion that gets the biggest AHA moment for my fellow researchers is this: Be the first one to ask questions. Put on your researcher hat and just listen. Do you hear the collective sigh of relief? Ah, I get to listen! I'm good at that, you say, that's what I'm paid to do! Ask the questions that you want answers to, whether personal or professional, but it's much easier for most researchers to be in drivers seat to start with. 

Within a few minutes, you'll have a good sense of the person you are talking to. Then, either they will turn the conversation towards you, or you can gently interject a similarity, something you have in common, or some work you have done that they may find interesting. Voila. You  have networked and also connected as two human beings. (More on this at another time.)