11 December 2015

I gave some objectivity to Matt

In response to my offer of free help, Matt from Bristol-based CPD for Teachers got in touch wanting a phone call with a fresh pair of eyes on his website. It was part usability testing, part expert evaluation and if you're someone who builds sites, I suggest you do the same for your local network.

Everyone involved in making a website spends every working day looking at the same interface for some period of time. In agencies this might be as short as a couple of weeks, for website owners it could be decades (literally, at comcar.co.uk our flagship product had been delivering the same service in roughly the same way since 2002). Whatever the time period, the unfortunate side-effect is that your power of objectivity gets permanently lost and with that goes your ability to spot obvious quick fixes to those little design problems that crept in during build. An external brain is all that's needed.

So what sort of things did my fresh eyes see that his couldn't? Things like a button appearing to be associated with a specific block of neighbouring content despite it not being. Just a re-alignment and a bit of whitespace will fix this confusion. Secondly, I found an enigmatically-worded yet serious-looking call to action a bit intimidating. I suggested a reassuring bit of microcopy below it would make me feel confident enough to press it. Finally, I spotted the wording on the same button that appeared across a few pages was inconsistent and made me think "Is there a difference between 'Add yourself' and 'Create profile'?". 

These observations took less than 30 minutes on the phone. I checked the call log, it was a 44 minute call and we spent at least 15 of those talking about Bitcoin. My point is, spotting those quick fixes gives him some low-hanging fruit to go after and the value of that -- in terms of re-kindling an expert's interest in the development process -- is huge. It was such an easy block of time for me to volunteer that if I was trying to deliver this as a paid service it would almost be embarrassing to invoice for it.

But what if such a service -- delivered in 30 minute blocks every few weeks -- could exist in our network on a casual labor-exchange basis? We all know a handful of trusted, skilled professionals through the tech socials we attend, but I suspect we also feel it would be taking the piss to phone them up during working hours and ask for a bit of perspective. But I reckon many of us wouldn't actually mind gifting 30 minutes here and there, providing we were not up against a looming deadline at the time or busy on a by-the-hour client booking.

Should we as a community make an effort to each clarify to our circle what our personal stance is on giving ad-hoc remote expert evaluations? Would you value the option of being able to call that person you chat to at that monthly meetup? Or would you begrudge the cost of the occasional interruption outside booked time? I would welcome your comments on this.