I left Google as a full-time employee this past July in order to pursue a degree in Human Computer Interaction at the University of Washington. Despite my status as a student, I've still maintained ties with Google in a couple of different capacities.
In one example, I've been fortunate enough to work on a Research Assistantship with Professor Eve Riskin in the department of Electrical Engineering on a Google Faculty Research Award developing Glassware for the University of Washington football team. A demo of the work my team and I completed on that project was showcased at a Google Glass event in SODO last week and received some favorable press coverage.
I have also pursued opportunities to continue to collaborate with Google in a more professional sense when possible. This past quarter at UW I helped plan and conduct a usability study centered around the relational database solutions that are a part of the Google Cloud Platform. I worked on this project in collaboration with +Joe Tullio, a User Experience Researcher based out of Google's Fremont offices. I additionally worked closely on this project with Koen De Couck and Monica Caraway who are both graduate students in the department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at UW.
While most of the research I've been conducting at UW recently has skewed more academic than professional, it was a nice change of pace to plan and execute a more traditional usability study. It was also an especially nice time to be doing a deeper dive on the Cloud Platform as the conclusion of my study coincided with a round of major announcements and upgrades regarding future cloud development using Google's software and services.
I won't go into all the details associated with planning and running the study itself. If you're interested in the work that went into it, you can read the full research entry in my portfolio or take a look at the findings and recommendations deck I assembled.
What I found especially interesting about this particular project was the demographic and target group of users it was focused on. The majority of my user research experience has been centered around designing applications and services that meet the needs of non-technical end users. However, this Google Cloud SQL study was primarily concerned with the usability and usefulness of tools and services primarily intended for use by developers. Designing a study, not to mention recruiting for, a highly technical audience was challenging to say the least.
This project also marked the first time I had remotely tested users without the benefit of organizational resources behind me. Running remote studies at Liberty Mutual was easy in that my team there had professional software and labs at our disposal to facilitate remote moderation. On my own however, I took the ad-hoc approach of cobbling together several freely available tools in order to effectively run my remote sessions.
After experimenting with several different combinations of software, the toolset I ended up moving forward with included:
- Chrome Remote Desktop Extension (for assisting with the setup of more complex user tasks)
- Google Hangouts (for screen and video sharing)
- Techsmith Camtasia (for screen recording and post-study cursor and screen markup)
In advance of running this study, I purchased and re-read the revised version of Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think which has a fantastic chapter called Usability testing on 10 cents a day. I had read an earlier version of the book a few years ago but was interested in getting Krug's perspective on mobile design and testing which is more prominently featured in the third revision of Don't Make Me Think.
I also relied on some of the suggestions +Michael Margolis put forth in his +Google Ventures Startup Lab workshop: User Research, Quick 'n' Dirty.
Even when I've found myself in situations where I'm predominantly focusing on the development and design of projects that I'm working on, I've found it's always helpful to be able to take a step back and approach problems from a user research perspective. No matter what my future holds in store, I hope user research in some capacity will play a role in the projects I take on.