Getting Ready for Usability Testing a Responsive Site

At AEP, we’re in the midst of a gigantic redesign of our corporate site, AEP.com. We’re developing the site using responsive design, which means our one design adapts to work on any device. We’ve already conducted at least 5 rounds of user experience testing already, in order to nail down the global navigation (how does it change from full desktop to iPad to small tablet to iPhone or Android phone), contextual navigation, dealing with long content pages, and other UI elements. Now, with the site earnestly being developed, we prepare to bring in customers to test the full experience.

The usability testing, which will begin next week, will have users complete common tasks that explore aspects of navigation (findability and context) of a deep site; readability of content on small devices; usability of tables containing lots of data; the usability of completing a form on a mobile device; getting customer service; general touchability and effectiveness of interaction design.

Working with our outside recruiting firm, we’ve enlisted participants who are very mobile and internet savvy and who have experience looking at information on corporate sites. As of this writing, we will be testing on two iPhones, two iPads, two 7-inch e-Readers, one Android phone, and one 10-inch Android tablet. Our testing hardware will allow us to record both the mobile device screens and the picture-in-picture of the users’ faces.

Because responsive design is meant to work on any device, we’ve invested in a bunch of mobile and desktop gadgets. Here are a few pictures of our gadget lab.

Some of the gadgets in our lab. Not pictured are the Google TV, Playstation 3, and Samsung SmartTV.

Some of the gadgets in our lab. iOS devices, Android phones, e-Readers, even a BlackBerry.

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Another view of our gadgets. The Dell monitor on the right is our eyetracking equipment.

Viewing our site on a Samsung SmartTV. Also pictured are a Sony Playstation 3 and Google TV.

Viewing our site on a Samsung SmartTV. Also pictured are a Sony Playstation 3 and Google TV.

We keep the devices in the UX Lab, but we’re also using the room to do QA on the devices. Thus the room has taken on the moniker of QUAX Lab, which I find amusing given that many people think my name is “Eric Dux.” It also speaks to the general craziness we’re all feeling with this project.

The following week after we test on the small gadgets, we’ll run another set of participants through the full site experience — using our eyetracking equipment. This will let us see exactly where people are looking as they traverse our site, providing excellent insight to our designers. And, of course, we’ll learn about how the navigate and complete tasks, and to what degree of satisfaction.

Being part of a corporate responsive design project has been a significant learning experience for everyone in our group. It’s been a heck of a lot of work and we could probably write articles on content governance, iterative design and usability testing (aka, being agile), nuances of designing for breakpoints, structuring design and development teams, quality assurance, and so on.

Our upcoming usability testing is one portion of a huge project — but an important one to validate that the site works for real people.

Wish us luck!

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Chartwell Inc hosted its 2011 Summit on Mobile…

Chartwell Inc. hosted its 2011 Summit on Mobile and Web Customer Interaction in Phoenix. There  I was treated to case studies from many utilities in North America on their mobile and web initiatives. Overall, I’m very impressed with the progress we’ve made as an industry. It was clear that several recurring themes emerged:

  • Customers Drive Mobile Development
  • Outage Reporting is Critical for Mobile
  • Customers Favor Text Alerts and Text to Pay
  • Mobile Apps vs. Mobile Sites is Something Utilities are Grappling With
  • Social Media is Key to Building Communities and Driving Mobile Adoption
  • The Sky is the Limit with Smart Grid

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MLGW App is Mostly Useful, but Somewhat Unusable

Hey, Another Electric Utility Launched an App!

First, I want to applaud our peers at Memphis Light Gas & Water for launching their first mobile app. As someone who’s actively involved at AEP building out our mobile strategy and determining the feasibility of adding rich features in a mobile web or app environment, I know that it’s a challenge on many fronts: determining the features customers want, deploying the development resources committed to building an app (whether outsourced or in-house), and crafting a user experience that is usable in the confines of a mobile phone’s small screen.

Unfortunately, the app falls short in some areas of usability and customer features, which I’ll discuss below. I offer my critique as constructive to our friends at MLGW, and not bashing or berating in any way.

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