Usability for Nerds/Feedback from customers
Let's return for a moment to the example of the unfortunate man who lost 5000 addresses in a database by deleting columns instead of rows.
Among the factors that led to this error were:
- The user had deleted records in this database hundreds of times before, and every time the program had set the default choice to Delete records. The user was accustomed to just clicking OK.
- Due to the routine nature of the job, and the fact that he was working overtime Friday afternoon, the user was less alert than normally.
- The amount of data was too big for the program's undo buffer, so that it was impossible to undo the fatal operation.
None of these factors are likely to be present at a usability test, and possibly not even at a beta test. Hence, it is quite unlikely that this error would be found at a usability test. And even if it were, you might not realize how serious it were, because the user wouldn't feel the terror of losing 5000 addresses. The only way you can find an error like this is to listen to the feedback you get from the users of your product.
User feedback is, in fact, a wonderful source of information which can be extremely useful for improving a product. Unfortunately, most producers fail to utilize this resource. They just consider user inquiries a nuisance and don't use them in any systematic way to improve their products. The situation has actually worsened in recent years where it has become common to outsource user support to faraway countries. The information about user problems never reaches the development staff.
It is very important to implement a procedure for how to deal with inquiries from customers. All user questions, suggestions, complaints, and requests for support should be filed and analyzed statistically. If several users have the same problem then it is likely to be a usability issue. Users should be rewarded for reporting problems, for example with a letter saying that you are working on the problem, and a free patch or update when a solution has been implemented.
This should be part of the quality control organization of any producer of technical equipment. If the users' equipment cannot be fixed and updated right away then you may set up a web page with information to all users on how to deal with known problems. For software products you may make a downloadable patch.