It is about the USER

While at Sapphire in Atlanta I had the opportunity to sit in on a user testing session.  For a number of years at Sapphire the usability testing team has invited customers to test applications that we currently have in prototype. 

The way to build more usable applications is through user-centric design, and testing process is an important validation and checkpoint in the process. This links in strongly to the design led innovation stuff going on at SAP. (See what Martin had to say about that experience here

You can find more about usability testing here.  It worthwhile spending sometime on the design guild site, there is lots going on at SAP on the usability side.  The story of the work on Analytics is also worth a look.

To work effectively, the testing process needs to be thorough. It should probe the users concerns, and dig deep to find out what works well and what doesn’t.

(photo from the design guild site)

The sessions are recorded, and there is some clever software from Morae that  tracks user reaction times and behaviours. Apparently it can even record eye movements and facial expressions.


The session I sat in on was a test of the prototype for simple buyer in Duet.  This scenario is aimed an the occasional user, perhaps someone ordering a new laptop or mouse.   The person running the test normally isn’t the product manager for the solution,  to ensure open feedback.  The tester is encouraged to “think aloud”, and every click and entry is carefully monitored.  The team uses a structured questionnaire to gather feedback  allowing the responses of several users to be analysed meaningfully.

The room was busy, with lots of sessions going on. 

I wish more folks could experience this, as it gives a real insight into the challenges of building applications that work for the user.  I recorded a brief chat with the folks involved in the test. 

Thanks to Kim and Sandesh for the opportunity to watch the session.

I’m also pleased to see SAP actively involved with external usability endeavours, such as CHI 

The work going on with accessibility is also vital. Building a tool that alienates partially sighted or blind people is simply not on. Software developers, even those building the latest hip 2.0 product have a responsibility to build applications that give everyone the chance to use them.

The more I think about usability the less it has to do with programming languages and pretty GUI paradigms  and the more it has to do with listening to the user.

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One thought on “It is about the USER”

  1. Thanks, Thomas for this post about your experiences from the participants’ perspective at the ASUG 2007 Annual Conference.

    You really grokked the message of our SAP User Experience group — it is indeed about listening to the user and the programming langugages and pretty (more importantly, usable) GUIs that we design are the end result of the process of doing our job effectively.

    Thanks for your participation and hope to see you at future events such as the ASUG Fall Forums — we will be running usability sessions in San Francisco and in Orlando this year and of course we will be back next year at the ASUG Annual Conference with new “pretty GUIs” to evaluate and solicit feedback on!

    Keri Carpenter
    Program Manager
    ASUG Usability Activities

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