It is truly amazing how often something can look great on paper, but not translate well in the real world. At NGX our design process always starts with wireframes where we map out the user experience from beginning to end. We start with a brainstorming session where we get designers, developers and producers around a table to discuss the best approach to a new exhibit. Then once the experience is mapped out, we review and iterate until we think we’ve got it exactly right. In short, there are a lot of really smart people putting forward their best ideas to bring an exhibit to life in the best way possible.
And yet, so often when we test the first software build, we find elements of the design that “feel broken”. These aren’t errors or bugs, the software is working exactly as designed, but something doesn’t feel right.
This is why we believe strongly in prototyping early and prototyping often. By getting a partially complete software build we can test the functionality that really matters before getting too far along in design. It also presents an opportunity to bring in testers who are unfamiliar with the project and we can watch how they interact with the exhibit. At this early stage we are looking for a confirmation that the user experience is intuitive. We want to ensure that the user can navigate from beginning to end and easily understand how they got there.
Every time we run a test session we are amazed by what we learn. The most interesting part is discovering which aspects of the design are not as intuitive as we thought. For this reason, we find ourselves seeking out opportunities for user testing earlier and earlier in the process. We also seek out opportunities to run test sessions in the actual environment the final software will be installed in with the actual visitor demographic.
This year we really upped our prototype game during the development of a driving game for Science World in Vancouver and a digital sandbox for Telus World of Science Edmonton. In both cases our Science World clients built and installed test rigs in their galleries so that we could test early versions of our software with real visitors. The feedback we received during these rounds of testing were instrumental in improving the user experience and software functionality. In the process we also learned the value of getting feedback early and continuing to receive it often throughout the development process.
Currently we are taking this strategy a step further by conducting user testing at the wireframe stage for an update to Science World’s Water Gun Game. Visitors will have the opportunity to review our wireframes and provide feedback on the proposed user experience. We will also take this opportunity to share our graphic designs to ensure that the visitors can easily understand the proposed iconography.
With each round of prototype testing we gain valuable insight into our own process as well at the exhibit being tested. In this world of agile software development we will continue to do what we do best….iterate, iterate, iterate until we get it right.
-Katie Bedford, Production Director