At Pringo, one of my roles was to work alongside the COO to improve project management processes from start to finish. This included the final phase, known as QA (quality assurance).
At this last stage before hand-off and the official completion of a web development project, clients were given the opportunity to test the custom features of their sites and report specific bugs so that they could be resolved.
Why Cognitive Psychology Matters for Usability Design
The sub-discipline of cognitive psychology focuses on the thinking processes of humans, in terms of information processing, memory and problem solving. A challenged faced by most technologists is designing new innovations in ways that are useful and easy to adopt by human users.
Technology must be designed so that it aligns with our natural thought processes. As a very universal example that we can all relate to, think about the difference between the interface usability of Apple versus Blackberry, for example. You get the picture, right?
The Need For More Efficient QA Processes
At Pringo, the pricing of projects was based on hourly billing. For the sake of cost-conservation, It was vital that developers avoid spending excessive hours across the different phases our client projects.
One of the sources of time inefficiencies was the fact that clients would submit vague information formats when they submitted issue tickets. This created the need for project managers to communicate with clients in a back-and-forth manner to gather more specific details about the reported issues. Developers would need these facts in order to hone in on the source of the defects and perform the requested fixes.
The Problem With General QA Reporting
Clients were given private access to a QA portal for reporting issues. However, the original interface was designed with a very open-ended field for describing feature defects.
Clients would usually submit qualitative descriptions of what they experienced. But if the error did not show up as a dropdown item within the system, it was nearly impossible to fix these issues.
Ongoing correspondence with clients resulted in excessive hours, beyond what was specified within the SOW document and project contract.
I was asked to propose a more efficient solution. Based on my understanding of Pringo's client QA portal, a more ideal defect report would need to consist of a specific sequence of steps needed for developers to arrive at the reported defect. These included important elements such as:
A structured response format became necessary to facilitate the completion of projects within the allocated budget.
Applying Cognitive Psychology To Pringo's User Interface Design
When given the chance to evaluate this overall problem, I was able to recognize the relevance of cognitive psychology to the issue of information processing as it pertains to the thorough reporting of issues. I addition to my studies at UCLA, my hands-on work in specialized child education provided many opportunities where I was given the chance to shape information in order to optimize learning and behavioral results.
From my formal education and my direct experiences, I recognized that open ended formats (e.g. text box) seldom generate specific and useful results. This unprompted structure results in very general, cursory responses as users are often unclear about how to formulate descriptions with the necessary details.
Guided templates are far more effective for obtaining clear and specific responses. As a solution, I proposed that we post guidelines on our defect reporting interface.
Such a format would help Pringo's developers be able to reproduce issues, compared to generic statements such as , “I tried to post and article and it would not save.”
Additionally I also proposed a slight redesign of the existing interface. Clients were asked to fill in the first step (i.e. link, button, text field) and click a button to generate a text box for the second step, etc. This would force them to generate specific, technical steps as opposed to anecdotal descriptions.
Principles in cognitive psychology are not a nice-to-have, but a must-have when it comes to technology. Usability that is intuitive and aligned with human-thinking processes allows users to make better and more efficient use of innovations, whether they are in web development or any other product of technology.