Hands up who has ever watched someone actually using something they have designed?
Its interesting that we are in the business of designing things that are intended to be used by people, yet we don’t ever take the time to observe how well our designs can be used.
We not only watch people using my designs, but actually incorporate this as part of our design process. What I am talking about is design testing and what I am going to show you is that the only way that you would know that a design can be used effectively is to observe people using it.
You don’t need a lot of people to help you test the design. After 6 interviews most of the faults have been uncovered. By testing the design with more people you don’t necessarily find out anything more about what is wrong with it.
Design usability must be tested in one-on one ‘depth’ interviews rather than focus groups. When was the last time you sat around in a room with 10 other people and collectively looked at your phone bill? It just doesn’t happen. Most design is used in a solitary fashion, so its pointless testing it in a group.
Now I am going to show you some jobs where the testing totally changed our thinking, or led to design solutions far more successful than they would have been if no testing had taken place.
The first is a project for NRMA to redesign their insurance certificates. Their feeling was that it looked cluttered and could do with a design overhaul. When we tested this design we found that people didn’t know what to do with it.
So, we changed the design so that the first page provided a set of steps to follow – such as check your contract, make changes, pay your premium by the due date and so on.
After implementation many customers increased their insurance cover, realising they were underinsured. There was also a huge increase in the number of customers paying their premium on time because they realised they wouldn’t be covered if they paid late. Phone queries fell. And customers have been less inclined to change to other insurers because their insurance policy is more transparent and easy to use – a great example of how good design that considers the end user can build customer loyalty.
After this project we redeveloped NRMA’s Policy Booklets. A lot of document design is based on the traditional book layout – nice cover, followed by general contents, chapters, headings and bodycopy. This is great if your reading a novel but most documents aren’t used in this way. In testing people said that they would only ever use the policy booklet as a quick reference guide, either at the point of taking out insurance or making a claim. So we redesigned the booklet to make it task-orientated – which not only helps you to navigate and use the booklet, but also provides a visual sense of how your policy operates.
At the front is a list of the main tasks you would expect someone to perform using the booklet – such as finding out what the policy covers you for, how to take out a policy and how to make a claim. From here you go to a chapter heading for the task with a list of topics that are involved. And, from here you go straight to the topic you are after. Each topic is divided up into 3 columns – a description of the topic, what NRMA will do and under what conditions. These booklets have been extremely well received by NRMA’s customers, who, based on this design describe NRMA as being open, honest and up-front.
The next job is a label redesign project that we did for Nature’s Own. In testing we found that the key information on the front of the labels was obscured by graphic elements such as the starbursts, the fruit motif and busy little messages. Important product information and instructions on how to use this product were missed by customers because they were divided across two panels, while the use of red type on a yellow background made the instructions difficult to read. These instructions were also hard to read because they ‘disappeared’ around the circumference of the bottle. In response to these findings I made a number of significant changes.
We reduced the clutter on the front panel and moved the ‘front panel’ to the left hand side of the label. It makes no difference where the front panel is placed once it is wrapped around a bottle. This layout allowed the instructions and product information to flow uninterrupted as a list. We also rotated the instructional text sideways so that it did not disappear around the bottle’s circumference. Each line of text is essentially on a flat surface. This was a radical departure from what had been produced previously and is a more efficient use of the label space. Finally, we changed the order of the information in the instructions to reflect the order that testing showed a consumer would follow when making a choice, or when using the product.
The next example where testing had a major effect on the design outcome was a redesign of the�Telstra bill. Telstra’s bill design had been around for over 12 years. The old bill had been designed when all we had was a landline. Telstra was having a few problems with their bill, in particular, customers weren’t paying on time. When we tested the old design one of the problems we found was that customers couldn’t find the late fee warning. In the new design we made this more prominent by placing it at the point where you need to see it, following on from the bill total and the due date. After this bill went live Telstra’s call centres were flooded with calls from people complaining about the late fee, even though it had been on the old bill for 7 years previously. This is a common by-product of a re-design that is transparent and can actually be used by people. The outcome for Telstra was an increase in the number of customers paying their bill on time. And, it won an AGDA Award for Design Effectiveness – I have never heard such a chorus of groans at an awards night.
In 2005 we redesigned Pfizer�s Codral packaging. One of the benefits of testing is that it shows you what needs to change and the best way to make the changes. A result of this is that in terms of structure and layout there is usually one optimum solution. So, rather than producing half a dozen designs and leaving it to the client, who is rarely an expert designer, to pick one, we only ever produce one design. By only presenting the best option you get the best results once a design is implemented. According to pharmacists these Codral labels are among the most easy to use on the market. Pfizer have even had customers call to commend them on these labels.
Obviously some jobs do not have the budget to include testing, however, we try to apply the best practise approaches and learnings developed through testing to all of our other projects. An example of this is for our client Mezzanine, a wine wholesaler who we produce a yearly pricelist for. Initially Mezzanine was a one-man band in Melbourne, but within 5 years grew to a company with reps in every state except Tasmania. Their sales have effectively doubled each year since the introduction of this pricelist. The pricelists are redesigned with a different theme each year, but are also designed to be highly usable by people.
I’d like to finish by saying that in this industry we are not at the mercy of a bad or incomplete brief. We don’t have to continually reinvent ways to describe ourselves like ‘brand experts’ or ‘information architects’. Through testing we can provide evidence-based reasons to our clients for what we do. Testing fills an enormous hole in the design brief by pinpointing what needs to be addressed by the new design. It also provides clues as to how people are using, and expect to use the design. It provides you with evidence that you can base your new design on, evidence that can also be used to help sell your solution to a client and that your client can in turn use to manage its stakeholders. It allows you to make direct comparisons between the new design and the old. And, it leads to design outcomes that you might never have thought of.
TRANSCRIPT OF A PRESENTATION BY ALEX TYERS FOR AGDA TO THE GRAPHIC DESIGN INDUSTRY, KALEIDE AT RMIT, 360 SWANSTON STREET MELBOURNE 28/05/07