Designing a great software application for the lab is like developing the perfect hue for a custom color. It all starts with basic planning, creating prototypes and lots (LOTS!) of testing. Product creation goes through various stages, with each phase depending on those that came before. (Chemists would refer to this as an “order of addition" scenario!)
For a product to be effective and useful, we need to collaborate closely with our current / prospective customers to better understand their needs, wishes and current pains. Interestingly, through the course of Alchemy’s development, we’ve observed that our model of client-inspired product enhancements is similar to the specialty chemical and material science companies we work with:
“Easy to understand system with tremendous flexibility and industry-specific workflows - the upside here is undeniable.”
“Seeing that materials created in the system can be dynamically linked to create TDS/SDSs is a game changer.”
“The best experience was how detailed the live demos were. I rarely see such quality in a full rollout, much less a trial.”
“Translating what was learned during the one-on-one sessions and actually doing it in Alchemy was awesome.”
What is Usability Testing?
Usability testing is a popular observation method aimed at detecting potential issues with a product’s fit for certain ‘jobs to be done’. This approach aims to find solutions and new possibilities in design, allowing for a more seamless flow from the beginning to the end of any given process.
Just as a chemist during drawdown testing of a coating inspects wettability, opacity, color match, gloss, tack strength, drying weight, dye uniformity, degree of pigment dispersion, and other such attributes, Alchemy’s product team follows an analogous process. By observing user behaviors in controlled test scenarios, measures of time spent, effort level, mouse dwell time and the like are captured. The aim of all this work: maximizing customer satisfaction while minimizing user friction.
Why Usability Testing?
The goal of usability testing is to:
- Identify design problems with existing solutions
- Discover new opportunities where meaningful improvements can be made
- Understand end-user behavior, priorities, and potential benefits of an alternative approach
Just as the very best chemists cannot create perfect products without understanding a material's application performance, the best software designers similarly perfect their products through iteration. By observing the right users and their interactions with the proposed solution, software designers - like chemists - can find the ideal formula for improved outcomes.
How is Usability Testing Performed?
Usability testing contains 7 key elements:
- Prototyping. Design an interactive prototype of the product or feature to be tested.
- Making a plan. Create a so-called ‘testing flow’ and conceptualize questions for users.
- Determine testing groups. Choose user personas that have a fit with the proposed solution. (Note: Not all types of users are adequate to test every segment of the application, especially those parts that they do not use at all in their work.)
- Perform the test. Perform and record 15 to 30-minute remote 1:1 user tests. During testing, the facilitator monitors the user's behavior and level of satisfaction with objective measures.
- Data processing. Analyze user testing interactions for important conclusions and begin the process of further design enhancements where needed.
- Documentation. Documented findings in an agreed upon structure to create leverage for future iterations.
- Improvement plan. Develop a product improvement plan with all relevant details for how change(s) will be implemented including defined phases and timelines.
Benefits of Usability Testing
To build a successful product, you of course need a talented team. Coupling that team with a rigorous process of customer-first iteration creates maximum leverage. In our work to this point, usability testing has saved thousands of hours for our development and designing teams. In addition to saving time, which is an important factor for us as well as for our customers, usability testing gives us the following benefits:
- Prototype validation. By testing we get confirmation that prototypes are a good fit for the implicit and explicit needs of users.
- Meet expectations. During testing users confirm if the product has met, exceeded or come up short of their expectations. When users see and feel what is being produced in the Alchemy platform, the feedback loops are more seamless and fruitful than developing in year-long cycles (like many of our legacy ELN and LIMS competitors).
- Detect user flow issues. Much to our dismay and despite our best efforts, prototypes don't always hit their mark. By focusing on the feature as well as the flow of a user's interaction with that feature, we are granted unique access to the minds of some of the brightest chemists in the world.
- Monitor user focus. By monitoring focus, the observation team is able to see what users may not, e.g., when certain elements of a new feature simply go unnoticed. This allows us to make simple tweaks like changing the color of an icon (simple, right?!) to enhance adoption.
- Create empathy. By showing prototypes, we get information about a user's feelings for certain aspects of the product. In addition to monitoring their behavior, we get information about their needs to improve overall output.
- Deliver an exceptional user experience. One of our primary focuses is to delivery best-in-class software to help formulators perform their lab work as effectively and efficiently as possible. Through usability testing, we are able to get as close as possible to our customers to continually deliver products that help to facilitate that vision.
Usability testing helps us understand how our customers think and how they do their daily work. Above and beyond how they work today, this process allows us to collaboratively create a future way of working to help them be faster, more efficient and to create better products themselves.