Usability interview with Opera!
By Eddie LopezEddie_Lopez. Friday, June 1, 2007 4:49:22 AM
Six members of Opera involved with Usability, User Experience and System Testing all took the time out of their busy schedules (providing you all with the best internet experience) to answer some questions on Opera and usability.
Usability and Systems Testing for Opera: (back row) Huib, Wolfgang, Kenneth
(front)Yenny, Gerður, Tami
Opera typically grows with the user, the more you use it, the more features you will discover, enable or customize.
Please click through to read insights from Opera UXP professionals discussing favorite usability features, challenges, accomplishments, and things that could be improved.
Let's start off with a bit about how Opera views the subject of user experience, user centered design and usability in general...
Wolf: Opera aims for the best experience on any device and everybody in the company is highly aware of the importance of usability and accessibility. Of course opinions of us usability people and the developers sometimes differ and we would maybe sometimes push for solutions that we regard more usable but are limited by other factors. Still, the spread of opinions within the company helps us to not forget specific interests in any direction.
Yenny: Yeah, there can be a big difference between what we would like UCD to be in Opera and what it is currently. It can be challenging.
I know exactly how challenging it can be due to those factors. Security is often the factor that trumps usability in my line of work.
Please share what you can about what the usability team does for the Opera product line.
Yenny: We are still very new on formal UCD processes so we mainly do user studies (personas, scenarios), interaction design and usability testing for a certain set of products.
On to some more specifics...How does Opera balance interface consistency (with other browsers, for migrating users) with its own innovative thoughts and UI?
Wolf: Opera is in a difficult position of having strong but critical expert supporters. They demand easy access to expert features while we need to try to keep them "out of reach" for novice users, which we need to attract if we want our market share to grow. This problem is reflected by the strong opinions expressed in forums every time we introduce or modify a new feature. Opera users like their browser and are as unhappy about change as users from any other browser. This is why we need to try both: Creating a better browsing experience that is still recognizable and suitable in comparison to our competition.
Opera is highly customizable, yet inviting right out of the box. What kind of thinking goes into how you lay out the "discovery" of features?
Huib: Opera typically grows with the user, the more you use it, the more features you will discover, enable or customize. Opera has always been very customizable and especially users that have been using Opera for long time change their setups heavily to make it fit their needs. We will continue adding and supporting many ways of customization, but we also focus on making the default setup easy to use and making the frequently done changes easy to perform. Thanks to all the users that enabled usage reporting, we know more and more about what settings are typically changed. ... We are also performing usability tests with different types of users, in which we find potential discoverability and customization problems. Many users are also actively contributing to this process by reporting how they or their family and friends use Opera in the forums. These sources of information tell us about how users use Opera, so we can make sure that popular settings and features are easy to find and use.
How much (if at all) do you tweak Opera from the default install to match your needs?
Yenny: It should work by default for everyone and, depending on your needs, you have the possibility of customizing it.
Gerður: It is getting increasingly common that people upgrade their computers, telephones, and other gadgets often. It is also common that people have at least a home computer and a work computer. Going through extensive configuration every time you install Opera on one of your devices isn't really an option for most people. The goal is always that it should work out of the box with the optimal behavior for the average user set as default. Otherwise we know that people will simply discard the product. I personally rarely configure my Opera versions and if I do it is usually more for fun than anything else. It is nice that you have the option but it shouldn't be necessary.
Accessibility- Opera recently announced support for (JAWs) screen readers, and has long had a list of accessibility features, but what future opportunities are there for Opera to succeed for impaired web users?
Kenneth: I think most companies struggle with prioritizing "hidden" functionality like an interface that's open to assistive technology. Our success hinges on our ability to work effectively with our blind volunteers to understand their unique mental models. We're actually working with more than just Jaws and have several people involved internally. Bit by bit we're increasing our compliance!
As mentioned in an earlier response, one of the more recent builds allowed users to share their setup information with Opera to get a better idea of what is (not) being used in the UI. Are the usability people actively involved in sifting through this information...and are there any interface "aha!" moments you've all had as a result?
Huib: We are actively analyzing the information and following the changes. But up to now only users that use the weekly builds enabled usage reporting. Starting with Opera 9.2 this reporting function is available for all users. It's not enabled by default anymore, but a random selection of users is asked if they want to contribute. The information from 9.2 will give us a more complete view on what is being used or not. ... Through discussion on forums, we already have a rough impression of which features are popular and which are not. But the usage reports gives us a far more detailed look. For instance, we learned that the preference "Open new tab next to active" is the most changed tabbed browsing setting.
What is the biggest challenge for Opera when it comes to interface design?
Kenneth: Our biggest challenges are finding the right places to add to the process. At times, we need to first discover the process, with different groups and projects using different approaches. We've tried to look for opportunities by understanding what managers, developers and others really need. There's a lot of fast paced work too, so keeping up with the changes can be a challenge.
Yenny: It's difficult making a UI that is customizable and powerful enough for the technically sound users and still making it simple to use.
Wolf: I'd say it's understanding that not only the GUI is the interface, but the whole product (features, use cases, intention, etc.) is an interface.
What type of things do you look for when you watch customers use Opera?
Wolf: Sometimes we have clear goals like is A or B better
Yenny: In every usability test (formal or informal) we try to understand the user's mental model and how they understand the Internet technology to find where they will most probably have misunderstandings.
Wolf: The interesting question about the internet is the usage patterns. To give an analogy: How do you use electricity? Electricity is everywhere and drives many devices, you use it some way, just as the next person uses it differently. The internet is at the beginning of a development that electricity has gone through to become a omnipresent and critical driving power. Due to its virtuality, unlike electricity, the internet can mean anything to everybody. This high complexity is the reason why we often only can search for specific answers to specific questions (A or B) or general problems with the mental model.
What are some of the better "Wish-List" ideas that have caught your eye (realistic or not) for Opera UI improvements?
Yenny: From my mobile point of view: Phones with bigger screens and more standard keys. All webpages designed with good handheld support.
Wolf: to extend what you're saying Yenny, different ranges of devices should be more standardized. Such as the desktop has some de-facto standards, this would be great to have on the side of mobile devices as well. Having a set of standard screen resolutions and input means (keys, stylus, etc.) would not only help us but also the web developers to make their pages better for the user. More location awareness would also be great for mobile devices.
Kenneth: For me, I think there are real possibilities in users being able to visualize "their stuff." For a browser, that user data is your history. But more than that too, it's emails you've sent, open tabs, alerts you receive, your friends... Unfortunately, people get lost easily. There's just too much data to deal with. Yet there are mature disciplines that concentrate on efficient data visualization. Ways of just glancing at some representation and "knowing where you are" immediately. That would be on my wish-list.
Now that the desktop team is pumping out weekly builds, have the elektrans become a thing of the past?
Huib- We are very happy to see so many users downloading and testing the weekly builds! Their feedback helps us to find bugs earlier in the process, but we also make interface design adjustments based on suggestions or comments from users. A recent example are the changes in the startbar (the toolbar that drops down under the address bar): speed dial, like the startbar, makes it easier to access your favourite sites, so the startbar was removed when speed dial was added. However, the weekly releases showed that some users were using the startbar a lot. So it was re-added in later builds (but disabled by default). ... Elektrans are contributing continuously and testing new Opera releases even before weekly builds are made. Because they are very active Opera testers, have extended access to bugs reports and early builds, their contribution will continue to be very valuable in the future.
What's your favorite Opera change/enhancement that came about due to some usability research?
Kenneth: A recent enhancement was the inclusion of a right-click menu to speed dial. In a study, people were asked "change what's in number 5." We found that every participant tried to right click (an early prototype didn't have any right-click). Pretty simple, but powerful. Simply watch what people attempt, and make sure you do something reasonable for that action.
Wolf: Some of our tests have shown that people have difficulty recognizing "their page" when viewed on a mobile device. And we think we've got a promising solution to that problem.
What's your favorite Opera feature that exemplifies activity centered design?
Yenny: Again talking about desktop: My personal favorite (as a power user) keyboard shortcuts (makes you browse faster). Recommended for a more common user: saving current session, "zoom" and "find in page".
Kenneth: ...and saving the current session is automatic. You close the browser, you open the browser, it's right where you left it.
...of course the contrast: What is the biggest usability issue you have with your product?
Yenny: In my opinion: error handling. Specially with plugins and mimetype setup....it is not such a big deal until it stops working.
Wolf: The complexity of the interface. The power of Opera can be an intimidating UI. This is a difficult task, but making the browser look less like an airplane cockpit, but still have all the power, that would be a great usability achievement.
Gerður: On mobile phones, setting up an Internet connection (access points) is by far our biggest hurdle. It is a very difficult issue to resolve as each operator and device is different, and the devices generally don't make it easy for the users to understand or configure their connections. In addition, operators are prone to configuring their devices with WAP access points which only provide limited capabilities. All in all, a very difficult problem to solve and almost impossible to explain in a user friendly manner.
And finally... My pet issue that I want an official Opera quote to link to: Why do you think it makes sense for Opera to have the address bar below the tabs instead of above?
Yenny: Because the address bar belongs to the specific tab so it makes more sense to have it there.
Perfect. Sounds so much better when you say it!
Thanks again to Huib, Wolfgang, Kenneth, Yenny, Gerður, Tami, and Opera for taking the time to answer all these questions and for fighting the user's fight for us all. Trust us... we all appreciate it!
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