Apple and Usability Testing

Apple and Usability Testing
November 9, 2017 Cathal O'Brien

Usability Testing has been around for some time and is seen as one of the main components in User-Centered Design. It is a useful technique that allows designers and developers to identify pain-points and Usability issues at an early stage, and thus lets them be resolved before it damages reputation or becomes too costly to do so too much. One of the early adopters of Usability Testing was Apple. In this blog post I am going to examine their relationship with it based on their design guidelines from 1982.

User Personas

The Apple document starts with User personas. It is difficult to design a great User Experience for a product if you don’t know who your User is. To quote the document:

“In order to properly address the needs of the users, you must first know who they are and what their needs are. Software design should begin with a user-profile study.”

This is a critical step in User-Centered Design. Apple recognised this in 1982 by having this at the start of their design guidelines. Personas are something we spend a lot of time on in Graphic Mint at the start of a project, making sure we create the right one before doing anything else. The most important thing though, as Apple says, is to “[m]ake sure you consider all your users.”

Vintage photograph of a man looking at an old apple computer

Testing

“Software designers are simply too close to their product” – never a truer word has been spoken, and what was true in 1982 is still true today. One of the benefits of Usability Testing is that it allows for feedback at an early stage in the product lifecycle that is unbiased and not invested in the product. Whereas designers expect everyone else to understand instinctively what they were trying to create, Users do not care about these intentions and give real, honest feedback.

“The job of the designer is to do her best to predict the response of the user; the job of the user is to do just the opposite.”

So when should testing begin? Well Apple can answer that – “You should begin testing as early as possible, using drafted friends, relatives, and new employees, to uncover the really big holes in your design.”

Body and Soul

Usability Testing is not just about asking the User for feedback. It is much more involved than that. Often Users’ reactions will reveal more about their experiences, rather than what they say:

“Ninety-five percent of the stumbling blocks are found by watching the body language of the users. Watch for squinting eyes, hunched shoulders, shaking heads, and deep, heart-felt sighs.”

There is a place though for asking some questions: “Do not make assumptions about why a user became confused. Ask him. You will often be surprised to learn what the user thought the program was doing at the time he got lost.”

Why do it?

So what is the real point of doing all of this testing according to Apple? “User interaction should be simple and easy to remember…Once the user has become basically familiar with the human interface, she guesses at an unknown response, she should be correct 95% of the time.”

That is the point of all of this. Designing products, websites, apps, etc should be about simplicity. It should be something the User can pick up and use without having to read a thousand page manual or watch twenty tutorial videos. It should be instinctive and a pleasure to use. This is something Apple have done well since they introduced to the world items such as the iPod, iPhone, Macbook which have been readily adopted by millions of Users and influenced the decisions made by other companies.

Lessons from the past

Although this document was written in 1982, its core principles still hold true today. The main points can be applied to products being developed in the 21st Century as they did in the 20th Century. There is some debate as to whether Apple still follows these principles of User-Centered Design, with some arguing they do and others that they do not. However, the advantages of Usability Testing and User-Centered Design cannot be overstated. And it is something we hold as a core mantra here at Graphic Mint. We provide top quality Usability Testing services to clients within our state of the art lab. Learn more about our services by visiting UsabilityTesting.ie and find out which package works best for you.

Cathal O'Brien
Cathal is a UI Developer at Graphic Mint.