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I've been working on a project over the past few months to choose a new help desk tool for our company. After narrowing down our choices to just a few, we now at a stage at which we'd like to assess the usability of each, in particular, we want to find out how our team will adapt and how productive we might be.

Does anybody have any insights that could help here? Any sources of information to reference?

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There's no way to measure how an interface will increase your team's productivity. You can only perform a heuristic evaluation of an interface based on some design guidelines. The only thing you can do is to evaluate live software with some real-world scenarios to see whther it fits your team's mental models. –  dnbrv Apr 23 '12 at 19:26
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closed as not constructive by dnbrv, ChrisF, Kit Grose, Alex Feinman, JohnGB Nov 25 '12 at 13:45

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3 Answers

Jacob Neilson has a vast archive of information on Usability Testing, courses you can take, different methodologies to use. I'm not going to link to them all, but look through the Alertbox Archives. I will recommend you start with Usability 101 however, then read testing with 5 users. A quick prototype with a small group of users is usually the most cost effective way to find problems with your design.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of articles there on many testing methodologies; it is an excellent resource.

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There are methods for doing KLM - GOMS evaluation and the like, but this would typically be used for comparing two designs for the same goals rather than comparing two products, which even if similar in features will most likely be quite different in actual usage.

So if you're trying to compare products, the best start would be to break it down into chunks. Then compare the similar chunks, and contrast the differing chunks.

Here's some suggestions as to how you might approach this, by looking at roles and goals, but you'll need to adapt this to suit your situation.

Looking at your existing tool:

  • List the features of your existing tool
  • List the roles of your users
  • List the tasks you currently undertake, and to what user roles they apply
  • List the attributes that can be assigned to those tasks - frequent, onerous, repetitive, secure.
  • List the ease or difficulty of the tasks (multiple steps, cognitive load, etc)
  • Extend this list as appropriate for your scenario

Then looking at each of the new tools:

  • List the features of the new tool
  • Look at how each task would be achieved
  • Assess whether each of the tasks will retain the same attributes, or whether it will become easier or harder, longer or shorter, etc
  • Combine those results to determine whether each user role will become easier or harder
  • Assess what added value the new features can provide and rate that value (eg: Won't Use to Will Improve Productivity)
  • Assess what functionality will be lost by moving away from the existing tool and rate that loss (eg: Not An Issue to Can't Do Without)

Hopefully, you'll start to see that the new tools either compare favourably - or not. And maybe you'll notice that the new tools either lack essential features, or provide opportunities to improve efficiency, either directly, or in the future.

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Agreed with the comments about finding out the desired workflows.

In terms of the actual interface design, bear in mind that something that whose operation is 'guessable' by users might not produce the best long run productivity gain:

Good reasons to use bad UI

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