Impact of UX on Quality Assurance

Okay, we want a quality design. To get there, we have to address the many quality issues beyond the user interface that can undermine the total UX.

Quality assurance (QA) and user experience (UX) have a two-way relationship:

  • Most obvious, usability is a quality measure for design. To ensure usability, a good UX thus requires QA thinking.
  • Beyond the user interface itself, many other quality issues also impact the total UX.

Usability as QA

By definition, usability involves measurable quality attributes such as ease of learning, the efficiency of use, and user satisfaction.

I have learned that QA beats QC (quality control) many times over as the approach to design quality. It’s much better to bake-in usability from the very start—before you’ve even begun to design anything—than it is to wait until there’s a near-final design and then subject it to “validation” in user testing.

Early focus on usability also boosts ROI; it’s 100 times cheaper to fix a design flaw on the drawing board than after product launch.

(Remember the First Law of Usability: Your design will be tested by users — your only choice is whether to run the test yourself before launch so that you can fix the inevitable problems while it’s cheap instead of playing expensive catch-up later.)

This is exactly the same conclusion found in other quality disciplines: whether for manufacturing or airline service or hospital cleanliness, the best results are achieved by proactive QA that considers quality as part of the basic process.

One more way in which UX QA resembles other quality disciplines? Quality design doesn’t come from wishing for it. It comes from scheduling quality activities in the project plan.

Other Quality disciplines that affect UX

Response Time!! It’s pretty obvious that snappy code isn’t just a matter of programmer pride. System speed impacts all usability areas:

  • For sure, a sluggish system is annoying and immediately cuts into user satisfaction. In every user test I’ve run, users have complained about slow websites and praised fast ones.
  • Efficiency of use is also clearly impacted by system speed: if each action is slower, then task performance is slower. Users will hesitate to perform beneficial actions if they dread the resulting wait.
  • Slow code hurts learnability might be less obvious, but it’s true nonetheless. Human short-term memory decays rapidly, and thus users are more likely to be confused if they have to wait. Also, users become more reluctant to explore (and thus learn) new options when slowness increases the interaction cost.

Other quality problems impact the UX as well. Bugs and crashes infuriate users and impede their task completion — sometimes to the extent of demanding time-consuming workarounds. But these implementation errors also reduce learnability, because users often develop elaborate superstitions around the problem. (“If I want to do X, I can’t do Y, because that causes a crash.”) When users’ mental models go off track, their ability to use the system’s bug-free parts is correspondingly impaired.

Also, when things go wrong, users don’t necessarily know it’s the computer’s fault. In fact, it’s common for users to blame themselves.

So, if it’s obvious, then why do problems run rampant? Because companies don’t take quality seriously. They’d rather invest in new features than in making old features robust. But UX would be much improved if we all acknowledged that QA is the foundation for user confidence and customer satisfaction. Once everything works, then think about new features.

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