Will it pass the Mom test?
Or grandmother as the case may be. It’s a common statement in software development and user experience, short hand for: “Will an untrained non-technical user be able to understand and use the product effectively.” I’ve said myself at least a hundred times over the years, but I’ve never actually used my mom for user testing. That all changed this Easter. Mom’s holiday visit was the perfect opportunity to put multiple technologies to the brutal “Mom Test.”
Over the weekend we informally “tested” iPad games and apps, iPhone apps, Kinect games and standard desktop applications. Mom came into the test scenario as a novice user with no tablet, smartphone or game system experience — by no means a luddite just not especially interested technology. My seven year old son and I served as test facilitators.
By and large the results were as one might expect, complicated. Desktop tasks proved difficult even when well designed; impossible when poorly executed. Basic iPhone and iPad proved less difficult, as was touch interfaces in general. Readability on the iPhone was a bit challenging — I suspect an iPad Mini would be similarly difficult. However, she was very quick to pick up and play an accelerometer game Untold created last year.
The biggest take away from the variety of tests: it’s not the touch or gesture or mouse controls that make an app easy to use. It’s the application. Perhaps the most cutting edge technology, the Kinect, was the most quickly understood and utilized, at least in the context of an understood game like skiing.
This month a Leap arrived at our office, a truly amazing bit of technology. As tech enthusiasts, we couldn’t wait to tear it from the box and begin to integrate it into existing experiences, but whether it will pass the “Mom Test” is anyone’s guess. Touch screens have been around for decades, but the iPhone was the first device that average users embraced. The “mouse” was invented in the early 50s, but it took the Macintosh almost three decades to realize its potential.
The “Mom Test” can strongly support our need for front-end user testing as soon as possible, because it’s amazing what you can learn from anyone like Mom.
Image source: Coupon Sherpa