Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's all about the Navigation User Experience

Comparing navigation usability of two hand held devices ...

"Two navigation system suppliers have been kind enough to provide me with demonstrator units, and I won’t denigrate their desire to improve by naming them here. But I will use them as an example of what must happen in the navigation space, before navi systems can be seen as mass-appeal devices delivering a user experience worth spending money on. Only those companies who get the experience right will be able to hold any kind of margin as things develop and more alternative solutions become available.

Over the weekend, I had trouble with both devices (a PND and a mobile phone-based system). The trouble came not in routing, or traffic alerts, or telling me which lane to be in, or any of the truly complex tasks a navi system is called upon to deliver. The problems were in entering addresses - the most fundamental activity for any navigation device. Almost every consumer study, notably the J.D. Power surveys, have shown this to be the single most problematic task facing navigation software designers. Clearly it has not yet been solved.

For everyone who thinks this is just a short-term problem, and voice entry will solve things – it will not. These are logic-based problems, not technology problems. The US has a particular logic to creating and describing addresses. Most US residents interpret addresses the same way. We usually start with a street address, street numbers before the street name, and street address before the city name. Occasionally we have the right zip code. Rarely there is a "street line 2" for building or suite or floor. Streets often have compass headings (East, West, etc.) and those headings can be before or after the primary street name. A bit of thought (by a native American), or some quick focus groups and/or surveys could easily find the most used paradigms.

... In general, I can say the mobile device was better at address entry logic than the PND. For example, when doing address entry, it assumes a number will be first in the address entry area and has number lock on for that entry, until the space key is pressed. Sadly, neither device was at a level where my mother could use it, which can be one standard for defining a good navigation experience. There should be zero frustration at the very start of a navigation process. Users will be quite forgiving of challenges with things they see as difficult or complicated. But there is no tolerance for problems with things they see as easy to achieve – like entering an address.

Can this really be so hard? The profession of User Interface Design has many tools for working through user logic. The Cognitive Walkthrough and the Use Scenario Test are a couple. I was a human factors engineer in a prior life, and such scenario testing is not too difficult. It has to be done with the input of native residents of the country for which the system is being tailored, and it can not try to accommodate more than one country. Paper-based scenarios and flow-charts are good enough, so long as the logic is thought out. It would be great to follow-up with real usability testing, but that isn’t necessary to get it right. All navi device makers can be assured they will get plenty of usability input from their customers. They must be ready to quickly adapt, and focus on what users say is important not what the managers or engineers think is important (i.e. more features is not the answer)."    (Continued via Telematics Journal)    [Usability Resources]


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