Conduct Usability Studies for CAD/BIM26 Mar, 2014 By: Robert Green
A/V recordings of hands-on software interactions can help you design better tools for your users.
I recently participated in a usability study for a web site and was struck by the idea of using a similar technique for evaluating CAD/BIM processes. I will be formalizing my thoughts on this process later, but for now I'll share the steps involved in collecting usability data and explain how to act on the feedback you receive.
Step 1: Configure the software on a test machine and set up your test user.
Step 2: Explain the task the user will be attempting to complete (drawing a detail, creating layers, modeling a stairwell, etc.) so he or she has a good feel for the task.
Step 3: Turn on a screen/voice recording tool such as Camtasia so you'll have a record of the user's comments and actions within the software.
Step 4: Walk the user through the task, and prompt them to comment aloud about the experience — particularly when they feel confused or lost. The goal here is to capture the user's thoughts and reactions about their learning experience so you'll be able to review the process later.
A Few Hints via Example
The facilitator I worked with during my usability study noticed I became stuck trying to navigate the site at one point. He asked, "What are you thinking now?" My response was, "I can't figure out how to get to the scheduling portion of the site!" In reply, he asked, "Well, where do you think the buttons/controls should be so they are easy for you to find?" I continued speaking aloud about what seemed logical to me.
This experience was valuable for the study coordinators because I wasn't saying something non-specific, such as, "Your web site confuses me." Instead, I was explaining exactly where in the process I became confused and how I thought the site could be better designed.
I'm now firmly of the mind that I should have users test all my CAD/BIM standards procedures with this same methodology. After all, if I understand what confuses users, I can design better systems that will take less time to train.
Since most of us have some mechanism to record audio/video segments for the creation of training materials, why not use those tools to create better software tools in the first place?
What do you think of using recording tools in this manner? Let me know your thoughts via e-mail — all suggestions are welcome.