Sunday, July 19, 2009

usability testing

So, here I am again, with another post and hoping for some responses.

One of the biggest areas of concern is usability testing. When I talk to clients and potential clients, I am often told that it is not necessary. The reasons are many from budget TO our sales force knows what the clients are looking for TO customer service will tell us and more. Unfortunately, this information is generally not complete nor accurate. This is because either people are making assumptions or the wrong questions are being asked.

The reality is that unless testing is done (and retesting) you really don’t know how people perceive and use information. And then there is the type of testing – do you use focus groups, one-on-ones, etc. For statements, we use one-on-ones because statements are very personal and are generally used by individuals. This gives us a more realistic situation and allows us to ask pointed questions about the information contained in the document.

To this day, I am still surprised by the some of answers we get!

One time I did testing on an auto insurance policy. First we tested the existing policy package which contained about 30 individual pages and asked people to open and review the materials. One individual removed the pages and organized then in neat piles by category. I thought to myself – this person actually reads this stuff! When we started asking specific questions it turned out he had no clue what we were asking and where to find the information.

I take a lead from David Sless of Communications Research Institute (CRI) and talk testing, testing, and testing. Although this is very important part of information design, most clients don’t understand its value or how to conduct the testing to ensure the greatest value. I have found the statement usability testing is treated much like marketing testing. That is, people are asked which one they “like” and other subjective questions that don’t get to the root of understanding the document and the information contained in it.

If more companies tested their documents, they would be more successful and errors would be reduced, time would be saved internally, money would be saved in production and the customer base would have a more positive view of the organization.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What I do.

Well, in order to facilitate this blog/discussion, I think is important to let everyone know what I do and how I see myself fitting into this broad arena of information design.

My area of expertise lies mostly in the financial, insurance and healthcare industries. My focus is on paper documents, such as statements (brokerage, retirement, bank, etc), forms (enrollment, application, etc) and bills/invoices (utility, credit card, telecom, etc.).
The hardest part for me is explaining to people, whether it is clients, potential clients, friends or even my mother, what it is I do.

I try to encompass what I consider all aspects of good information design in the documents I work on, usability testing, plain language, graphic design, understanding of all the users, etc. But, more about that in future posts.

People should be able to find information easily and quickly and be able to understand it so that they can act upon it in the way that the company would like them to. If it is a bill, it needs to be paid, if it is a retirement statement – how much do I have, etc.

A lot of statement work comes from the marketing departments and they generally don’t understand the purpose of the document – in fact I think companies see documents as a necessary evil and are viewed as “we have to send an invoice” or “we are required by law” type of documents. No thought is given to the importance and the potential ramifications, both positive and negative, of these documents. It is interesting that companies spend thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars producing slick full color brochures, ads, and other marketing materials to get new business whereas any good salesman (or woman) knows that the quickest, easiest, cheapest way to generate new business is through existing customers.

Statements, invoices and other documents are sent to existing clients on a regular basis (monthly, yearly, etc) with personal information that WILL get read and they present an excellent opportunity to generate new business.

BUT, it must be done with care and the first step is to keep the existing customer happy.