Software

10 human factors that are critical to your app testing

A feature-rich app isn't necessarily what your users want or need - not if it hasn't been thoroughly tested to deliver a positive user experience.

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Image: iStockphoto.com serdjophoto

All too often, IT develops applications that are tested for functionality and features but not for usability. But if an app isn't user friendly, there is risk that it won't be used. This is why companies should concentrate on human-factors engineering as much as they do on features and functions. Here are 10 things you should check during app testing to ensure that your apps are easy to use.

1: Straightforward screen navigation

The ability to easily move around in apps as users perform different functions is paramount. If navigation is confusing or tedious, your users might not use the app at all. Unfortunately, navigation usability requirements are often not even written into the design specs for new apps. They should be.

2: User testing and signoff for usability

End users should be involved in testing app ease-of-use as well as in tests of features and functions. They should be engaged early in the app build process—before apps are prematurely engineered into artifacts that are difficult to use.

SEE: 10 app tests that belong in your QA playbook

3: Environmental factors

App designers should understand the business conditions that apps are likely to be used in. For instance, will the app be hosted on a handheld or mobile device in a warehouse where the operator might not have hands free to access the app—meaning the app will need voice activation? What about apps where data must be accessed rapidly in trying circumstances—like in a police car during a high speed chase? Or an app for a coffee mill in Mexico that requires app localization in Spanish? All these use cases should be written into the app design spec.

4: Meaningful terminology

Because they live in a world of acronyms and tech jargon, application developers often unknowingly assign labels to data fields in apps that are unintelligible to the average end user. This creates frustration and incorrect use of the app.

5: Effective support

Apps should never be installed without pre-training of end users, followed with a clear line of readily available human support whenever the end user has a question.

6: Fit with business processes

How easily will the app fit into an existing or new business process? Does it complement the workflows that come before and after it? End users of the app can offer guidance in these areas if they are engaged early in the app development process.

7: Well-executed error routines

One of the last areas to be tested in app development is error processing. In cases when apps are rushed into production, these error routines might not be tested at all—but correct procedure is that they always should be. When error handling isn't tested, an end user may make an erroneous entry or hit a wrong key and and the entire app freezes. This is a productivity eater. You can avoid it by ensuring that all error-handling routines are working correctly before deploying an app.

8: Flat applications

Drilldown with click-and-point is a great option that end users want for data exploration—but if the drilldown takes the shape of screens nested into screens until you finally get down to the screen of data that you want, the process becomes self-defeating. App designers should always work with end users to determine the best balance between screens that are too packed with data and screens that require too much drilldown to get to the data. The best balance point is somewhere in the middle.

SEE: How to build an enterprise app that employees will love

9: Fit for purpose

If an app quires rapid data entry over prolonged periods of time, screen design should involve relatively few point-and-click operations. Conversely, if the app's purpose is to enable users to query data and design their own reports, a point-and-click approach with drilldown is the better fit.

10: Security and logging

Apps should come with embedded security that is down to the level of an individual in an organization, with logging of all workstation and user activities. This is needed to meet governance and regulatory requirements. It also helps end users better manage the activities in their respective business areas.

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Other considerations?

What additional factors do you think are critical in building apps users will embrace? Share your advice with fellow TechRepublic members.

About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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