Recently I have been thinking about the future of testing. More and more I think that the future of a tester’s profession won’t be about the technology choices or even automation, but rather adding a human quality to the products. We will be the ones to stay alert on ethical sides of products, question design, development and usability (ease of use of a product or service).
As a quite experienced question asker, I get to wear multiple hats and collaborate with various departments during the product development. From my experience, I would say as a QA, you get to work with (not limited to only these people of course):
- R&D questioning algorithms and their output
- UX designers questioning design choices and trying to wear user’s shoes
- Business and product teams questioning requirements and acceptance
- Development teams questioning implementation
- Management questioning priorities
- Sales teams questioning domain
All this questioning for me means representing the user. Making sure the quality of the product is satisfactory and user feels good using it. Usability when it comes to feelings is one of the top qualities.
I am not sure if it’s because of my recent thoughts on people vs. products, but I became very sharp on observing the world and, oh boy, how much it hurts when our lives are affected by poor usability and bad design.
Usability and Bad Design Adventures
I was flying into Munich airport recently and remembered one of the most interesting talks I’ve heard on EuroSTAR 2017 “The Sky Is The Limit! – Or How To Test A New Airport Terminal”. In this talk, Christian Brødsjø shared the experiences of testing Oslo Airport. And, of course, it involved people – they had to see the readiness of the airport, the ease to use and the operational abilities. Airport testing is not an easy task, it requires a lot of time and simulation of the actual airport activities in order to see what feedback people are giving and how it would actually work. Nobody wants to repeat the story of the disastrous opening day for Heathrow’s Terminal 5.
When I was searching for more information on the airports, I found many articles on failed airports and even airport representatives admitting that their airports are a mess. This makes me think that I am not alone having bad feelings about airports. Sometimes I need a reminder that bad user experience is something that we should talk about.
In the past month, I had a pleasure of getting to work in the same team with a very caring UX designer Shawn Lukas. We discussed many times how important it is to care about the actual users. A lot of times we don’t even know people for whom we are creating the product – we have to make sure to get to know them instead of guessing or assuming how they are as we are creating something for them. In addition, as users very often we tend to blame ourselves for the product issues. A lot of times we take products the way they are and deal with their imperfections: it may hurt to use them, we may get annoyed, but we stay silent and just try to find workarounds. It should not be this way, the way we feel about products matters and we should speak up.
So, coming back to the Munich airport… It is one of the busiest airports in the world and I am sure that a lot of people worked on making it a good experience and did as much as they could. However, I travel a lot and usually don’t expect much from airports, but certain design decisions left me a little bit annoyed, frustrated and even angry at some points. I am sure that my mum would get lost in that airport – that is not a good sign, because everyone should be able to use the airport. Especially that traveling already is a pretty stressful thing in itself.
How Munich airport managed to trigger my feelings?
Sunday. After waiting at the airport and traveling, I just wanted to get some rest and get out of the destination airport. After landing, I went to go get my luggage. It is a big airport, so gets rather tricky with turns and quite a bit of walking – that’s alright. However, the way to the exit had these things bothering me:
- Confusing direction arrow signs. Unfortunately I did not take a photo, but imagine this – there is a space with many escalators, some going up (on the left), some down (straight). There is a sign that baggage claim is ⬆. Does it mean you should go to the left and up or straight down? Apparently you should go straight down even if arrow shows up – learnt it the hard way by first trying to get up.
- No indications to explain certain experiences. Finally I get to the little room where I see no more baggage claim signs, but what I see is the train. Train going to other terminals, I assume. I hesitate, look around for more signs or where is the baggage claim as I just want my bag, not to fly somewhere else (even if I wish I could at that point) and an angry airport worker tells me to get on the train. And I tell “I need to get to the baggage claim” and he shows me the train and says angrily “This is the baggage claim”. I am already a bit frustrated by this – how could I know to take the train? So, I murmur back while getting on “No, this is the train”. A little bit of human understanding would be nice in this service: add a note that you need to take the train to get there rather than show the train and tell it’s baggage claim. It’s not. It’s the ridiculous train.
- Green signs for forbidden exit. I reached the baggage claim. Got my bag and looked around – it was a big room with windows and doors and could see people walking outside in the parking lot. Would not expect to get out this easily usually – we always have to pass passages and official arrivals are in the airport, however, this time I decide to check if it’s some kind of shortcut because the doors have green signs on them. Only getting closer I see that actually if I opened this, I’d trigger an alarm and it’s just an emergency exit:
Usually forbidden alarm controlled doors or emergency only exits are with red, so why is it green? I walked back from the door and managed to eventually leave the airport in a different way.
This experience I may not have noticed before, I may have taken it for granted or as is, but the more I work in tech, the more I realise that all we do and create is for people. It is not okay to make your users confused with bad design & usability.
Why should we care about usability?
As QAs very often we get to see the whole image of the product/service. This adds a lot of responsibility to aim to feel the same way about the product as our users. The challenge here is that being involved in the actual development we know why certain design/tech choices were done in a certain way, and, this may add a familiarity bias and make us take things the way they are. However, we have to remember that products are developed for certain users and this means that their quality very often will be evaluated by feelings. As the saying goes:
People very often don’t remember what you did, but they remember how you made them feel.
So, make sure to question usability and design. Catch any kind of feelings you may have about the experience and voice them. And, for the best result – get to know the actual users in order to understand their feelings.
P. S. Ironically, in order to write this post I had to login to my wordpress account and I was annoyed a bit again about user experience:
Why would the field say “Email Address or Username” when only username is allowed? I used the correct e-mail and managed then to send a link to the very same e-mail and login via click there (as I could not guess the username field). This just sums up on how you should always think twice about the design: how users will interact with your product and feel afterwards.