Testing Early is Key to Efficient App Development
A couple of months ago we were hired by Freeland.org to develop Wildscan – an Android application that will assist law enforcement and customs officials identify and report cases of wildlife trafficking. Last Tuesday we presented the planned app to The Royal Thai Customs Department, and received their feedback as part of the ongoing development process.
The earlier you test, the earlier you get it right
It may sound odd, presenting an app to user testing so early in its development process, but the reality is this is critical to the app’s chances of success. The earlier the testing begins, the earlier we identify features users find to be superfluous, annoying, or just plain incomprehensible, and can address them. The earlier an issue is identified and handled, the less costly it is to fix…
The presentation with Freeland was given in English and Thai, mostly for formality, as customs officers have good English. We’d expected a small group but were pleasantly surprised when we were greeted with a packed room of ranking officers, including the Directors for the Royal Thai Customs divisions for Service and Investigations!!!
We were a little concerned beforehand as to how much sense our screen wireframes would make to other people, but the officers immediately understood the layouts, and were able to provide valuable feedback throughout the session.
Users usually know best
Anytime we’re designing an interface we try to anticipate the user’s needs as best we can, but especially with highly specialized audiences, users tend to have incredibly important insights.
Try as we may, from the comfort of our desks we must admit we have a limited understanding of the factors and considerations facing a Customs Agent in the field in the middle of a bust.
We’re very grateful we had this opportunity to get insights and input from the officers becuase we know this will ultimately serve to make the resulting app so much better.
What we learned
The insights shared were focused on details. I have a huge degree of respect for details, because it’s there, in the correct and careful handling of details, that a designer really has a chance to achieve greatness. Specifically the feedback we got was related to:
- The privacy and sharing aspects of the app – Agents were very concerned about how the information input into the app would be shared and syndicated, and with good cause – In the wrong hands this data could ruin investigations and potentially put users at risk.
- Data fields – Comments were made regarding the priority, size and labeling of certain data entry fields. It’s going to be a challenge moving forward keeping the app useful enough for Customs to want to use it, without “surrendering” to their inclination to turn this into a “Customs app”, rather than an app for wildlife protection activists, as it’s intended to be…
- Default view for data – One of the most interesting comments for me personally was related to the preferred view of animal species that agents wanted set as a default in the app. We learned that despite the associated usability cost of longer scrolls, agents preferred having a thumbnail view over a plain list view, when viewing a list of species.
I have a hunch that as users become more comfortable with recognizing animal species, they’ll revert to the fast-scroll list view, but only time will tell…
Overall it was a fantastic experience for everyone here at Vimi. Seeing how interested the officers were in the app was truly an inspiration for us to do the very best we can to make it a first class working application that will really help Royal Thai Customs put a dent in animal trafficking related crimes.