The business benefits of intuitive, user-friendly and pleasant technologies have been highlighted in various sources, including prominent media outlets like Harvard Business Journal and Forbes. Delivering positive user experiences (UX) is a task for a multidisciplinary team. First, researchers investigate and document the current state of user experience. Then, designers craft solutions to address the pain-points and challenges in the present user experience. And finally, engineers translate designed tools into tangible technology products that yield much improved user experience.
Standard Research Methods Do Not Always Work
The first step in the process of delivering positive user experience is user research. In short, it is a multi-faceted approach to understanding users, business and technology they deal with. Contextual inquiries, surveys, interviews are among the most common user research methods and yield great insights. However, multi-tool, multi-user role, multi-location, multi-step and process situations present much more complex user experience problems. Here, the standard research methods fall short.
When investigating user experience in complex environments, human factors expertise is an absolute must. Human factors is a scientific discipline of understanding how users interact with their environment from psychological as well as physical perspectives. Psychological facets focus on problems like “how does the user remember and execute the exact sequence of buttons to press to initiate a rocket launch?” Physical considerations deal with tangible objects and address questions like “does the size of the buttons on a keyboard allow easy and error-free data entry when user is wearing gloves?” Answering such questions requires training in human factors methods and theories, something that most user experience practitioners do not posses.
What is so special about Human Factors?
Both psychological and physical aspects of technology use matter, and especially so in the enterprise domain. If technology is not optimally designed to prevent errors, speed up data entry, be convenient to carry around and so on, it negatively impacts business operations and can even lead to severe accidents and disasters. Of course, standard user research methods can unveil the need for a streamlined process or improved design of an interface. However, the methods for documenting and quantifying many of the relevant components of user experience, such as critical and non-critical decision points, key-strokes, click-paths, and cognitive fatigue, come from the human factors domain. For instance, human factors experts can quantify exactly and in several different ways how distracted drivers are who text on their phones. Such insights make significant impact on design of enterprise software, especially tools used in industrial environments.
User research in any technology design process is critical. Methods for user research should be selected by experts as they know best what pros and cons of each are, and which ones will help meet the business goal. Human factors expertise may not always be required as part of the user research process, but it sure is a secret weapon when handling complex enterprise operations and technology problems. Make sure your research team has appropriate expertise for your business and technology projects.