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April 2005 Contents

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UPA Member Interview with
Alain Robillard-Bastien, M. Sc.

Alain Robillard-Bastien is Principal Consultant at Interactive Ergonomics and President of the Montréal Chapter of UPA

The inteview was conducted in December 2004.

Q: What project are you working on now?

A: While I’m wondering how will I be able to buy all of my Christmas gifts on time, the big thing that keeps me busy these days is remote testing. My team and I have been working quite a lot the last few months to evaluate various solutions and conduct some tests with colleagues and friends around the globe, from Quebec City to Hong-Kong, through all kinds of possible –and impossible- conditions (Ever tried web conferencing in a gloomy motel room with a glorious 28.8 connection? Scary…). We also focused on methodological issues to make sure we have interesting results from this approach.

The timing was good. We ended up this fall working on two mandates that rely heavily on remote testing, online surveys, and such. One of them involves a local governmental agency that wants to evaluate some web interfaces and content geared toward a very specialized audience. The other project is with a nonprofit international organization connected to air transport. This time, the audience is again very specialized, but is located on all continents.

Q: What's the biggest challenge you're facing on this project?

A: Technical issues aside, we have to deal with difficulties to find and connect with representative participants to take part in the usability studies. Even with an established list of potential participants, it is still an adventure to get in touch with them.

First, for a lot, English is a second, if not a third language. But their assistants or the receptionist may not be bilingual at all. Just getting in touch with them can be quite challenging.

Then come the time zone issues: when will we meet? Not everybody is celebrating Christmas, while others are out of the office for a few weeks. My schedule for the next few weeks is quite strange, and may well include a remote testing session in the middle of the night of the 26 to the 27, right after Christmas. Among others.

And what if, for any reason, the session just doesn’t work? A firewall or the impossibility to install some small software on the participant’s computer may jeopardize the session, as can connection quality. Things can easily go wrong.

Q: Do you have any "take-aways" to share that may benefit our members?

A: I rely a lot on a highly efficient third party to find and call the participants, and to manage everything before the test. Email can also become an efficient means of communication, but a few phone calls are still a better way to make sure that the participant will be there at the scheduled time.

I also plan for more users than needed, even if I have to pay a few extra bucks to compensate them even if we never have to do a session together. This way, I sleep a little better before the test sessions, which is important considering I have to sleep at weird hours!

Sleeping well is important so that you can handle unknown communication problems that can occur with this kind of international testing. It’s important to talk slowly, to avoid any kind of joke or phrasing that might not mean the same thing in another culture (stick to your test plan!), and to listen carefully to everything the participant says. It is also mandatory, much more than during testing sessions sitting next to the participant, to keep him talking all the time: this can get exhausting.

In a few hours, it’s possible to hear 5 or 6 very different variations of the English language, if not various languages if you are bilingual or multilingual. This also underscores the fact that recording is essential. You WILL, at one time, go back to the audio recordings. Using efficient software to easily associate your test notes with the audio track is a must.

And don’t do it alone! I am fortunate enough to have a great team with me: we are all ready to replace one other very quickly. It also makes life easier when it’s time to decide who will work when, with whom. Not everyone can shift to a night schedule. And working with a colleague will certainly be really helpful to keep concentration up and make sure you don’t miss any relevant information during the sessions, especially at 3 in the morning, the day after Christmas!

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