Programming

Work Environment and User Testing – blog I out of III

IT professionals use methods when developing software to understand the experiences of users when using the software. In the STRIA project we have chosen to study the three most popular methods with this purpose used in industry. These are the methods:

  • personas, which describe typical users;
  • a form of user testing called think-aloud method;
  • and a method called heuristic evaluation, where rules of thumb for interface design are considered.

the STRIA project two researchers, professor Åsa Cajander and associate professor, Marta Larusdottir will lead the work.

“We will explore how these methods can be modified to include aspects of the work environment of the users” Marta explains.

“Usually developers focus on developing one system. They rarely focus on how that system fits with all the other systems that the user is using. We have seen that users sometimes use 20 systems during one day. The work environment of the user is quite demanding, if these do not fit together”, Marta continues.

In the STRIA project we want to help IT professionals to include the bigger picture of the users by suggesting changes to traditional methods. In this blog we will explain how traditional user testing is done by using the think-aloud method and how we plan to change that method. Two other blogs will be made to explain the two other methods: personas and heuristic evaluation.

Traditional User Testing with the Think-aloud Method

Traditional user testing is done in similar way in the industry. The responsible person or the tester typically asks five users to take part in the testing, one at a time. Let´s say that the first user is a female. When she arrives, she is asked about her background, like her age and education, and she is asked if she has used similar systems. Then she is asked to solve tasks using the system being tested. The tasks are made by the tester, who observes who easy it is for the user to solve the task. While solving the tasks the user is asked to say what she is thinking. Therefore the name of the method is the think-aloud method. While the user is going through the system to solve the tasks the tester notes down the comments the user has on issues in the system that could potentially be improved. When the user has tried to solve all the tasks, she is asked about how the experience was while using the system. Then the user is thanked for taking part in the testing. Usually these tests take around one hour. See more info on think-aloud: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Think_aloud_protocol

Including Work Environment Aspects

In the STRIA project we will focus on IT systems in health and medical care and administrative work. Many of these systems cause both physical and psychosocial work environment problems, but this is rarely considered when developing computer systems. We plan to conduct workshops with users in healthcare and in adminstrative work. We will also we interview the users on their work environment. We will map the digital work environment in health care and in administrative work and look at how the latest technology affects the working environment. We plan to look more closely at automation and artificial intelligence. The results of these studies will be used to make modifications on the traditional think-aloud method to include the work environment aspects. These modifications will be tried out with students and IT professionals. We will also make educational material, so the IT professionals can learn how to use the new methods.

“I think the work environment aspects are super important, especially in healthcare and administrative work. We have seen loads of problems caused by the computer systems and we want to do our best to help IT professionals to understand these problems by using our new methods”, Marta concludes.

Marta Lárusdóttir

Associate Professor at Reykjavik University
Marta Kristín Lárusdóttir is Associate Professor in School of Computer Science at Reykjavik University and chair of the CRESS research center there.

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