5 signs your software needs to be tested for usability

Diligent, dedicated designs are wonderful to have. A designer who’s got built in empathy for end-users? Even better! But that alone doesn’t build great software. The truth is, we simply never know what our audience truly needs, and to a certain point, neither do they. This is why we need to be facilitators before we can be designers. We need to embed ourselves in the team and understand its workflow — ask the right questions and constantly present potential solutions to our group of end users. Over time, as you observe their behaviour around what you propose, ideas start to form. Real ones that come straight from the source. So how do you know your software isn’t being tested for usability? Look out for these 5 sings:

1. Your team is developing work-arounds

By the time a product is refined enough to be launched into the real world, designers would have presented features and interfaces in such a way they align with the team’s habits and daily behaviours. A train operator needs important levers to be at arm’s length, this is because who ever designed the train controls understands the driver, the job and the objective of the control panel. If this thought process fails, the user (in this case the train operator) will need to develop his or her own workarounds to operate the train and avoid catastrophic outcomes — so if your team is utilising the proverbial broom handle to pull the levers — investigate, as that interface needs to be tested for usability and precious time may be being lost.

2. The software is the focus of discussion in social events and meetings

A good software experience feels like its always been there. When a product fits comfortably within a workflow, you won’t notice it. Good design is invisible. So if every time you get together with your teams in meetings, or in social events during which wine is flowing and people are more relaxed — and all they talk about is that annoying piece of software, a red flag should go up. Invest in one of many usability testing products or companies, or better still ask your team to tell you what they don’t like about the interface. If possible, sit down with them and observe their day-to-day interactions with it. Productivity flows when a workflow is pleasurable.

3. Teams blame the interface for sluggish performance

Business output doesn’t always need to be perfect but it must always be measurable. The main problem with substandard software interfaces (which can be easily improved thanks to usability testing and adequate iteration), is that it fails to track where things go wrong. When that data sneaks out of the process, we’re left clueless as to what went wrong. So we can’t blame teams for pointing their fingers towards the technology. If this is happening within your business, chances are the interface just isn’t up to scratch. It’s not pulling its weight.

4. Your IT manager’s full time job is giving out software tutorials

The simplest way to gauge the success of a software product is to find out where your IT people’s hours are being spent on. If more than 20% of their time is going into helping your team upload a file into a piece of software, and if that lesson is being repeated week after week, then you are experiencing waste via untested software. The ROI of usability testing is tremendous — simply by improving what we call ‘critical errors’, in other words things that are holding your team back from achieving their goals. These are low hanging fruit that cost very little to address, especially when one considers the kind of return good design can yield.

5. At least one employee left the company because of a poor workflow

The surest way of knowing whether your technology is up to scratch is if a good team member decides to get up and leave. There are plenty of organisations out there that are investing heavily in cutting edge software, so why should people put up with untested interfaces? — software should be user-led, built for an enjoyable experience. This pays dividends when it comes to employee satisfaction and retention. If the tools are a joy to use and productivity is high, team morale will follow suit.

It’s always fascinating to see designers observing users using their interfaces for the first time. It can be heartbreaking to see people getting stuck in areas of your software you assumed were so easy and simple to use. But at the end of the day, we’re not know-it-alls, we are simply facilitators. Good listeners with a special appetite for problem solving. So by applying practical observational skills, we’d be taking the first step to make our software experiences a little bit better.