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Remember that facebook launched on iterations in an only-university-user rollout? This made facebook an elite platform that only users from prestigious universities could use (and of course, by the hand of a value-added proposition) that was sought eagerly by the users.

Now think about Stack Exchange sites, they propose and vote for the next Q&A site and then there's people looking forward the initial rollout of the site.

Three sub-questions here (and no need to answer if Answer to Q1 equals no):

  1. As a UX advocate, would you need to consider the rollout strategy as part of your UX duties?
  2. Would you gather Subject-Matter-Experts (Not expert users) on your topic to test-drive the application first?
  3. Controlling the rollout would generate expectation / boredom?
  4. Is a subject-matter-expert rollout-phase could be considered the same as beta?

basically:

Would you say that having a SME or quality-user rollout before going live and open would affect or increase the chances of following users having a better user experience?

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fantastic question! –  Fresheyeball Jul 22 '12 at 18:55
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2 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted
+50

We are missing some very essential information here. "Who is your main user group"?

If you think of it, the answer to you basic question is quite logical. Would it be smart to have a doctor to review a health insurance application form? No way. Likewise, a domain expert can really ruin the user experience for a novice user. Terminology, mental model, experience etc etc is too different.

Some people would even claim the opposite: "If average Joe can use it, then everyone can use it". I'm not behind this statement either, but it does make you think...

...

Update

We really shouldn't classify and "rate" the end users in terms of "good users" and "average users" (or even "lousy users"). UX wont judge the user and UX wont tell the difference. All UX cares about is the factors involved in the UX estimation formula. And in that formula, the usergroup is a very important factor.

Take a look at the ISO definition of usability:

"The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use."

And pay particular attention to the conditions in that definition: specified users, specified goals and specified context.

That means that you cannot determent the correct level of usability if you use the wrong ingredients in the formula.

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Dear @downvoter. I agree that this isn't a high quality answer (it was added before the bounty, btw, so it isn't a cheap rep-whoring attempt), but it is an honest attempt to answer the core of the question "will a SME-only pre-release increase the UX for the main user group" in a Q&D manner. If it's unclear what my answer is, then let me clarify: "IMHO, this could actually degrade the UX - but it depends who the end user really is." I don't mind being down-voted, but I would really appreciate a short comment that explained what I could improve or where I was wrong... –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Jul 16 '12 at 15:54
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Downvoter, I agree with @Jørn here, and it's true that this answer was added prior to the bounty. Furthermore this answer expanded my horizon, as I didn't consider the example mentioned (the one with the doctors, before) however, I wanted to have more insight into the matter, hence the bounty. Downvoter, please consider leaving your reasons for downvoting. –  edgarator Jul 16 '12 at 23:29
    
@edgarator, thank you for the feedback. I can live with the down-vote - no worries. I just want this whole UX.SE site to be a good collection of information. So if I'm dead wrong, then I'll either delete or improve my answer. Sometimes, however, a lousy answer can be nice to keep with other better answers. I those cases, the answer will stay put. I'll se if I can find time to improve my answer. This is a very interesting question, indeed. I've seen ISV's that refer to such a SME roll out as "user tests", and I've definitely seen lots of "pre releases" distributed only to power users. –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Jul 17 '12 at 1:13
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Great Update @JørnEAngeltveit gave me something to think about. –  edgarator Jul 23 '12 at 1:39
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User Experience Design is more than quantitative site analysis - by its nature as part of the design process it involves making subjective decisions on aspects where it is difficult or impossible to get data, and must take into account a balance of factors which make up the experience gestalt.

UX design takes a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to the design of user interfaces for digital products [...] ensuring coherence and consistency across [many] design dimensions. (Source)

This leads to the conclusion that yes - UX design needs to take into account "non-tangible" factors.


To answer your sub-questions (note this is opinion, YMMV):

1) Rollout strategy

All parts of the design team need to be concerned with rollout strategy. For UX this may involve making compromises in the design stages in order to allow the rollout to proceed effectively and efficiently - but more importantly, the rollout itself can have UX implications.

Initial rollouts tend to be to a new user base. In this case, it is the responsibility of the UX designer to identify likely users and ensure that the site or application delivers the appropriate experience. This is a bit of a no-brainer. Further rollouts iterate upon this, and require the UX designer to take new user groups into account (and if the rollout is part of a larger strategy, to plan for this stage in advance).

Transitioning between two different designs usually has a negative impact on the experience - as a rule, people hate and fear change (even if it's for the better). Managing the rollout of an update comes firmly within the bounds of UX, and it is the responsibility of a UX designer to oversee (and mitigate if necessary) any issues caused by changes to design.

2) SME test driving

The answer to this question depends on a few things. Firstly, are you targeting SMEs, and if so, why?

If you're targeting SMEs as one of your key user groups, then yes of course you should test with them (as you should with all other core user groups). This is particularly true if your site's uptake strategy relies on SMEs driving further growth through authority/exclusivity and network effects.

It seems from your question that you're looking at a rollout strategy which includes core users first and then a further rollout to other users at a later date. In this case, since your primary users are solely those in the SME group, then you will definitely need to test with them (if only because they represent the totality of your initial user base).

Remember though that SMEs may not be representative of your final target user base. If you are planning on rolling out the site further, make sure that you can test with your eventual users as well, and if necessary come to a compromise on design decisions.

3) Expectation/Boredom

This question is a bit too vague to answer without knowing your circumstances. It may be something that you should bear in mind, but without knowing your strategy and methods it's impossible to say whether it would be a factor.

4) Staged rollouts and betas

A beta is a very specific thing, and different to the first stage of a rollout to end users. It is a sign to your users that you may not be feature-complete and may not be bug-free. Given this, signalling beta status to your users is a method of managing expectations.

The question is: do you want to subject your core user base (if you are relying on your SMEs to drive engagement and uptake later) to a beta? It's certainly possible to use them as your guinea pigs, but it's important to remember that this stage may drive some of them away if there are serious problems.


In summary - yes, it's probable that staging a rollout will improver the experience for users later in the rollout, as bugs and other issues will naturally be caught as your initial users encounter them. Whether this is good for your initial users is a different matter, however. Further, you need to take care that the needs of your initial users do not have undue weight on your design decisions if you eventually decide to cater to a wider user base with different needs.

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