Listening to Our Customers: User-Centered Design in Action
Product Manager Describes the Impact of User Conferences
Author: Teena Singh, Principal Product Manager, Oracle Applications User Experience
Oracle’s user experience team, or UX team, subscribes to a user-centered design philosophy, where the wants and needs of the user are given attention at every stage of the design process. The team members know that by observing and listening to Oracle’s users, we will be able to create the most usable software. What better way to gauge the efficiency and usability of our products than by watching firsthand how users interact with it?
Customer Feedback Sessions at Conferences
One way the UX team has incorporated customer input has been by conducting feedback sessions at user conferences. Customer feedback sessions are usability tests where team members watch and listen to users, who fit a specific profile, complete real-world work tasks in a prototype. By observing and listening to users, the team learns what works well and what needs to be improved in the software.
In 2007, Oracle’s HCM, or Human Capital Management, UX team set up an onsite usability lab at the Oracle Human Resources User Group conference in Las Vegas and gathered design feedback from customers. After OHUG 2007, that feedback was to be incorporated in the next iteration of Fusion designs. (See Lessons from Vegas: Gathering Customer Feedback at a User Conference for more on this topic.) A year passed, and the HCM UX team returned from the 2008 OHUG conference, again in Las Vegas, where the updated prototypes were shown to targeted customers.
Oracle’s UX team went back to Las Vegas because we knew that human resources professionals would be in abundance at the OHUG conference. The OHUG conference typically sees 1,200 or more HR professionals each year, from benefit administrators to payroll managers to HR coordinators.
The new prototypes we tested, which represented the next iteration of the design, were updated after Oracle gathered input the year before, and were more robust. Getting feedback on the next iteration ensures that Oracle is heading in the right direction and designing software that truly fits our targeted user’s wants and needs.
The UX team will continue to work on the designs and be ready to show the next stage of product designs to customers at OHUG in 2009. It’s a continuing process, and we look forward to maintaining a design-partner relationship at every stage of the product’s life cycle.
Listening and Learning from the Real Stars
Marie Medaris and Buzz Bolton, two HR professionals who participated in customer feedback sessions in 2008, chatted with me about their experience at that OHUG conference. For a UX team member, it was a pleasure to sit down with the real stars of the user-centered design philosophy and hear how they felt about the new designs.
Teena: Please tell me about your current position and what you do on a daily basis.
Marie: I currently work for University Hospitals, which is based in Cleveland, Ohio. I am part of the HR team that supports the HR application suite.
Buzz: I work for Cummins Inc. We are a manufacturing company based in Columbus, Ind. I work in the shared services office that includes HR services and support. My team lives all the time, every day, in the system: We live and breathe HR transactions.
Teena: Had you heard of the Oracle Application User Experience Team before coming to OHUG ‘08 in Las Vegas? What do you think our team does?
Marie: Yes. Your team introduces functionality of what is coming up and tries to get feedback on how users feel about it. Your team determines which software design elements the user finds effective and which can be improved.
Buzz: No, not before this conference. The basic thing I took away is: Oracle is actively, aggressively trying to get user interface input from the people that actually work on it. It’s great to know that Oracle really has an interest in the user’s opinion.
Teena: You were specifically recruited for this flow as you are considered an end user, someone that completes these tasks on a regular basis. Did you know that?
Marie: I certainly touch this every day. I run into these kinds of issues on daily basis.
Buzz: Yes, I’m aware of my star power. (Laughs all around.)
Teena: Were there times where you “couldn’t figure out” how to complete a task? Did the person moderating the session help you when you were stuck?
Marie: They gave me hints, but they didn’t point things out for me. A tiny bit frustrating for the user, but helpful for your team, I’m sure.
Buzz: The moderator was being very, very careful in what she was saying. She was making sure she was saying the same thing to me she would say to another participant. She was careful not to let her comments influence the process or the results. She would give me a hint if I was stuck, but not give the answer as she wanted me to figure it out.
Teena: The user experience team hosted a reception at the conference on Tuesday night. Did you attend the reception, and what did you think of it?
Marie: I did. It was nice to get out and meet people. I always like that part of the OHUG, or any conference I go to — the chance to get to talk to new people. These customer feedback sessions certainly sparked conversation both during the reception and after.
Buzz: I thought it was very useful. The real reason I go to a conference is to meet with other users. You end up realizing the majority of issues we face are exactly what is frustrating other users.
Teena: What did you like about the prototype you saw?
Marie: I like that it’s all centralized and things are easy to get to. You can open things up ... see more things on one page, thanks to scrolling ... which makes it easier to understand the details of a specific employee at a glance.
Buzz: The new design is more intuitive and offers more information per screen. It’s great that when looking at an employee’s record, you have more information and don’t need to go to other tabs or screens. That was a big deal for me. With the current version, when someone calls regarding an issue, you can’t answer a question by going to just one screen. You have to go to different screens. The fact of the matter is, it makes a lot more sense for an HR professional to have all the pertinent employee information in one place.
Teena: Would you want to be involved in these sessions again?
Teena: Did you know the feedback you provided is being incorporated into the next phase of the design?
Marie: Well, I knew my comments would be considered. My thought was that it might be something like an enhancement request. The more customers make the request or make the comment, the higher the priority. It was fun to participate. You get to see what’s maybe coming, and you get to give your opinion on it. It’s different than looking at a screen shot or watching a demo.
Buzz: I was made aware of that. This is great to hear.
Thanks to Buzz, Marie, and all of the participants in Oracle’s onsite usability lab at OHUG ’08.