My time at SimpleUsability: the Switzerland of consumer research

March 1, 2012 4:17 pm

My time at SimpleUsability: the Switzerland of consumer research

When I started my placement at SimpleUsability, I knew barely anything about usability or user experience. This isn’t the kind of stuff you learn at university (even as a Psychology student) and I found it fascinating that the usability testing I was witnessing would make an impact in the world, unlike my university dissertation…

After just half a day I was learning why it is that usability testing plays such a critical role in web development. After a few rounds of testing I was astounded by the richness and variety of comments and ideas that participants were producing. Many things that they were suggesting I had simply never considered – and judging from the frantic scribbling of notes from the web designers observing the session, neither had they.

I had been initially ‘switched on’ to usability by my interest in consumer behaviour and market research. Yet prior to seeing the work that SimpleUsability do, I had never come across usability testing before, though no doubt I had benefitted from it many times when browsing online. At the time of writing, the BBC reported that almost 2,000,000,000 people use the internet – almost a third of the population of the world, and so I was stunned that usability was not a more commonplace issue.

After spending two months at the agency, it was clear to me that there are a number of pitfalls that can contribute to ruining a customer’s web experience and this is exactly what SimpleUsability aim to detect and resolve. Their use of eye tracking allows the user’s journey to be examined in a non-obtrusive way as participants carry out tasks as naturally as they would at home. They are then played back their eye tracking session to vocalise thoughts and feelings at particular moments in their journey. The team at SimpleUsability make the whole process look so easy, coaxing out reams of crucial observations and opinions in great detail from participants.

What’s Switzerland got to do with it?

A member of the team described the SimpleUsability approach to me as being like “Switzerland – an impartial third party.” What they meant was that there is no hidden agenda and that the team remain neutral throughout the testing process. SimpleUsability channels the voice of the consumer and make recommendations accordingly. Their attention to detail is quite amazing – making sure that each and every element of feedback is considered. This approach and the passion and talent of the team is inspiring to watch and makes it easy to understand the loyalty of their clients.

The team really welcomed me and after two months there, I felt very comfortable. Being a newcomer, and especially as I was staying for just a short amount of time, I was worried that I may feel like an outsider, so being able to enjoy a good laugh within a few hours of arrival was a huge relief.

At SimpleUsability it’s less of the classic ‘carrot and stick’ method of recognition, and more a case of these guys doing what they enjoy and enjoying what they do. During my short time in the office the team grew larger with two more additions, who were both met with the same enthusiasm and acceptance as I had been. From week-to-week we learnt from one another; something that is key to the ethos of the company. Everyone is continually learning and this helps to keep the SimpleUsability approach fresh and constantly ahead of the curve. This is further facilitated by the opportunity to attend a variety of talks and conferences in order to learn from other industry experts.

Thanks to the team at SimpleUsability I’ve learnt so much – and not just about user experience. I’ve also learnt about the value of teamwork, the importance of attention to detail and perhaps most importantly: the correct technique for carrying more than 10 teacups at once! If anyone is thinking of embarking upon a career in market research or usability, a few weeks here will demonstrate what is sure to be the future of consumer research.