Creating something that people love to use is easier said than done. Doing it with limited time and resources is even harder. But this is the task we set ourselves 12 weeks ago.
As consultants we provide expert advice, but we seldom get the opportunity to be fully involved in the implementation process. We are aware that it is easier to give advice than to act on it.
So, in order to walk the talk, we decided to design, build and release a new online card sort tool. We set ourselves a small budget, set a 10 week time frame and formed a team of two to make it happen. These constraints proved to be one of our most valuable assets. The constraints forced focus, focus helped reduce unnecessary complexity and required our decision making to centre around our users.
This exercise taught us a lot about what it means to juggle conflicting needs and objectives. Most importantly it also confirmed to us the importance of goal-directed design and the need to stay ‘intimate’ with users.
Some insights we gained include:
- The value of ‘checking in’ every week.User testing twice a week meant that we had few surprises left when we launched. With the simple (and free!) web tools Gotomeeting.com and Skype, we conducted user testing with people from all around the world. The investment in time was quite literally 2 or 3 hours a week but the insight and peace of mind was invaluable.
- Quick iterations save time.The sooner we learnt we should not be spending time on something, the better. With the feedback we got from our user tests, we were constantly tweaking and refining. I’m sure it drove our developer a little crazy at times, but it meant we were able to keep to our budget and release on time.
- Low tech can be just fine. A lot of time can be wasted in “pretend planning”, or cleverly disguised procrastination. Often the most effective solutions are remarkably low tech. For us, four large sheets of paper and Post-It notes worked perfectly well for tracking our development progress. It took 10 minutes to set up and cost virtually nothing.
- Small can be good. A bigger team and larger budget is not necessarily the most effective (or only) way to deliver on projects. A small but well organised team can be surprisingly effective. Sitting next to each other, a shared calendar and regular structured communication were our biggest assets in our team.
The finished product, OptimalSort, was released in June at the Usability Professionals’ Association conference in Austin, Texas.
We have been pleasantly surprised by the response. Hundreds of users have signed up and thousands of participants have completed card sorts in just two short weeks. It seems that creating something people love using is well worth the effort.
Take a look and let us know what you think – http://www.optimalsort.com