Give the People What They Need: How user needs analysis drives good experiences
DI’s Senior Research Associate Christina Padron discusses the importance of a proper user needs analysis when developing technological solutions.
We have all had a bad usability experience before, with one of the most common examples of this being encountering a bad website. You know the site – you can’t find what you’re looking for, you clicked a link that took you somewhere you didn’t want to go, or my personal favorite: the site not being optimized for mobile and just not functioning correctly (last time I checked it was 2017). I’m sure I’m not alone in swearing off a website or company just because I’ve had such a bad experience online. At the root of bad usability is a failure in user needs analysis. In the case of websites, the failure to understand how users want to navigate a website (or in the case of mobile, understanding what devices they are using) results in a loss of users. Regardless of the medium used, understanding user needs is crucial to creating positive experiences for users.
User needs analysis is a critical first step when designing Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality technological solutions. These solutions are becoming more popular as people begin to see benefits ranging from entertainment, to remote workplace collaboration, and when used for training experiences, can prove to be more cost effective. A properly executed VAMR session, including heads-up displays and stereo sound, can result in a more personal, immersive experience. However, poor design and usability in these systems can have a much larger effect beyond frustration on participants, potentially causing disorientation or nausea and even negative training (learning to do things in the wrong way during training). Like many things in life, every reward comes with a little bit of risk, but proper usability and user needs analysis can mitigate these risks and result in a positive, immersive experience for the end user.
Understanding user needs is crucial to any VAMR experience, and in the case of MR, drives the decision making of what parts of the solution should be real and what should be virtual. There are specific aspects to scenario design that help to ensure a low probability of cyber sickness. Overall, when designing a VAMR experience there are a few requirements that you must understand for good usability and an effective experience:
- What are the overall goals the users have?
- What are the critical tasks that need to be completed to meet those goals?
- What type of feedback do users need to determine whether or not they successfully completed their goals? (e.g. visual, auditory or haptic cues)
Let’s go through an example. In this scenario we are creating a MR driving simulator that combines some real components of the car (e.g. the seat, wheel, gas and brake pedals) with some virtual components (e.g. windows and dashboard), experienced through a headset. This would allow for easy reconfiguration for users to experience different types of cars and scenarios at a very low cost (assume hardware components are the same because the types of cars, or the MR solution allows for reconfiguration of these as well). Now imagine that a 15-year-old is learning to drive using this MR solution. Without a thorough user needs analysis, the system designers may have arbitrarily (or based on cost) decided what components to make real and which to make virtual. Maybe they decided it wasn’t worth making the turn signals actual hardware components that you can move, and instead they made them virtual components that you kind of “touch” with your finger in the virtual world when you want to turn them on and off. A user needs analysis would likely indicate that experienced users generally do not look at turn signals to activate them when they are driving and instead feel for them with their hands and keeping their eyes on the road. Drivers know that they have activated them correctly when they feel the bar move in the correct direction, hear the clicking sound of the turn signal, and possibly when they see the correct arrow on the dashboard light up.
This MR driving simulator would not be a good system for an inexperienced driver to learn on as it fails to meet the requirements for good usability for that specific demographic. While adding virtual turn signals is attempting to complete a critical task in the driver’s goal of safely learning how to drive, the feature overall is a failure as it does not allow the driver to maintain eyesight on the road, which is a critical task to driver safety. By allowing an inexperienced driver to learn on a system that does not have physical bars to move up or down, and instead expect them to learn to look for a virtual button to press, when the driver gets into a real car they will essentially have to relearn how to correctly use a turn signal (but now outside of the safe environment of the MR solution). Though this is a simple example of not designing for user needs, it highlights the importance of a proper user needs analysis and its impact on your experience’s effectiveness. The frustration and danger resulting in the real world from negative training in the MR solution is only amplified when you start to think of training for more high-risk, time-critical situations, such as training tactics for military helicopters or tanks, critical casualty care on the battlefield, or surgical training.
Though an upfront user needs analysis before the design of a VAMR solution can take some time and specific expertise, companies that do so are rewarded with a more streamlined development and testing effort and an overall better user experience. Whether you are trying to train medics, drive a car, or even understand how your retirement fund is doing, ensuring you meet your user needs is the first step in setting yourself up for having a usable VAMR solution.
Design Interactive has been optimizing human performance at ludicrous speed since 1998. We develop innovative, engaging augmented and virtual reality training solutions and create biosignatures of human emotion, cognition and physical state that empower consumers. To learn more about how we can leverage technology to improve your business processes, contact us here.