In this interview, Philip Lew, the CEO of XBOSoft, talks about his upcoming presentation, how user experience relates to mobile, the connection usability shares with UX, and how your company can take an important first step towards improving your mobile user experience.
Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Hello and welcome. Today, we are joined by Philip Lew of XBOSoft. He's going to be giving a presentation, titled "Mobile App UX and Usability: A Continuous Improvement Model." Philip, thank you for joining us today.
Philip Lew: It's great to be here, Cameron.
Cameron: To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at XBOSoft?
Philip: Sure. I am a UX and usability nut, perhaps you could say. I really love it. Not only do I pursue it professionally, but I just have a really great personal interest in it, especially since my Ph.D. research was done on software usability. Then I've been able to take that over into XBOSoft and offer usability testing as well. I am the CEO of the company. We founded the company back in 2007. As CEO, I wear many hats as you can probably imagine.
Cameron: You're giving a presentation at the Agile Development Conference & Better Software Conference East. What led you to the idea of your session?
Philip: You know, I guess there are two things. One of them was that, like I said, my expertise is in the usability and UX. The other thing is that with mobile now dominating the landscape, and I don't know if you've read a lot of the recent books that have come out, in terms of not only the proliferation of mobile, but just how it's really influencing our lives. I thought that this would really be an appropriate topic to help people to develop applications that would really not just work, and the buttons work, but really get users to use their app.
Cameron: You talked a little bit there about the proliferation of the mobile involvement in the industry. Your presentation is about user experience and has it relates to mobile. Why is it something that people should care about?
Philip: You know, I think just like with the Web, originally when websites came out, just working and not having broken links was good enough. Probably five years ago, or maybe three years ago, the iPhone came out in 2007, as you know, just having an application or just having a mobile website used to be enough also. But again, users' expectations have risen and therefore, user experience has become more important as the differentiator for your application, and users just expect something that's a lot more than just working at this point. So, it's really important.
Cameron: Now you also noted that some newer organizations are adopting what's known as a mobile-first or mobile-only strategy. What, exactly, does that mean? Why would they particularly take this approach?
Philip: There's two things that are driving that. The first one is that the barrier to entry to developing a mobile app is much, much lower than it used to be. Smaller software development teams, especially with now just two main operating systems, smaller software development teams can develop a fully functional application within weeks. Especially with agile development, in terms of having a short development cycles and working software, and all the principles behind that. People can out something that's fairly good and functional very, very quickly.
Also, in addition to the user base, I think the research shows that most users now use their mobile before they would their desktop, and especially in developing countries. That's where the market is going, in addition to development processes and those kinds of trends, that leads to that mobile-only or mobile-first strategy.
Cameron: To expand upon that a little bit, there's a difference between being mobile-first and going with responsible web design. If you are a mobile-first company, or that's your strategy, does that mean you are having a site dedicated only to mobile, or does that mean that you can also have responsive web design?
Philip: Yeah, I think the responsive web design, mobile-first, what I mean by that is, that you target mobile users first and then possible expand and integrate into different types of functionalities that a user would access on the desktop.
Cameron: You're also a proponent of the idea that usability and user experience are connected. Other than the fact that they are both spelled similarly, how are they connected?
Philip: I think there's a lot of confusion there. Usability is something that's actually defined in software quality standards, whereas I think they've really been searching for definitions of UX and user experience, but they haven't really found one. The reason for that is that user experience is really more related to satisfaction, so they are connected in the sense that if you have a application that is highly usable and has good usability, there are chances are that the users will be satisfied, but not necessarily. So that's the connection (in that a highly usable application does lead to satisfaction, but not necessarily. There are many other factors in a user experience that influence that.)
Cameron: You also cover some evaluation methods that attendees can take back to their teams in order to implement as a first step towards improving user experience. Why is evaluation an important first step?
Philip: It's just like when you go on a diet. You want to take a look at what you're doing first. Examine what you're eating, see how much you weigh, those kinds of things. When you take a look at usability, you want to do the same thing in terms of evaluating what the users have problems with. Taking a really good look at the placement of things. The flow of different tasks through the application, and so forth. That's really just the first step in any kind of improvement program.
Cameron: So it's kind of you have to have an idea of where you're going to go before you start that journey.
Philip: Yes, or where you are, see where your problems are.
Cameron: You cover a lot of great things. As you said, mobile is the new hot trend. What take aways would you like the attendees to leave with, after they attend your presentation?
Philip: I think that what I'd like them to take away is that the usability and user experience is really no longer just a UX designer or some kind of expert's job. But that as developers and testers, we can really have a large impact and really make a difference in terms of making the applications that we develop and test much more usable. Kind of using the 80/20 rule, we can really do a lot ourselves with some really simple evaluation techniques that can improve the app.
Cameron: You've worked with hundreds of organizations to improve their software quality. One of the ways you do this is through measurement plans. This is kind of a broader question. Is it easier to implement these measurement plans with smaller companies because there are less moving parts, or so one would think, or is it easier with larger companies because you have a larger set of information and data to work with?
Philip: Well, that's a good question. I guess it certainly is more fun to work with smaller companies. They really get excited about the things that they can do. The speed at which they can do things is much greater than with a larger organization. I'm sorry, I think your main question was around easier, though. I think it's easier to get the data from large companies, but probably harder to do something with it. Because it's usually a larger company might move a little bit slower.
Larger sets of data, of information? You know, many larger organizations have silos, so it's not necessarily larger. They may have information that's very large but possibly segregated and not integrated with other information, so that may make it actually more difficult. In general, I think it's just more fun and actually easier to work with smaller organizations, because they're more motivated and they could really see some improvement very quickly.
Cameron: There's definitely pros and cons to both, though?
Cameron: Talk about XBOSoft for a second. XBOSoft was founded in 2006 and today it has over 100 employees serving both the US and European markets. You guys also recently, I saw in June, opened a new and larger office in the Netherlands. As XBOSoft grows, what can we expect from you guys in the next few years?
Philip: You know, we do a lot of testing for organizations now. What we plan on doing is moving higher up the value chains and offering more consulting. Because what we find is that a lot of our customers, before they get started in doing software testing, don't know what they should do in terms of increasing software quality. Software quality has a lot more to do than just testing. There's a lot of work that can be done in quality engineering outside of just the testing itself. That's where we plan on moving towards.
Cameron: Fantastic. As a last question, is there anything you'd like to say to the delegates of the conference before they attend, and before they attend your presentation?
Philip: Yeah. You know, I think it's very difficult for people to get away for a couple days from their work and so forth. I think that with my session, as well as the conference in general, I would encourage people to really put in the effort in getting out of the conference what they came for. I know that means possibly disconnecting sometimes from the office and not getting distracted by problems. Those problems will still be there when they get back.
Sit in the front, ask lots of questions. It's just like when you were in school. The more you put in, the more you'll get out of the conference. I think the other big thing is to really get to know the speakers, not just myself but of course all the speakers, and network. I think that's probably some of the most valuable parts of the conference other than just attending the sessions.
Cameron: All right. Fantastic. Thank you very much. Once again, this was Philip Lew of XBOSoft. He is the CEO, and he's giving a presentation at the Agile Development Conference & Better Software Conference East 2014 down in Orlando, and his presentation is titled "Mobile App UX and Usability: A Continuous Improvement Model." Thank you so much, Phil.
Philip: OK, thanks, Cameron.
After working in various management and technical positions in software development and product management, Philip Lew leads XBOSoft’s (xbosoft.com) direction and strategy as CEO. His Ph.D. research in software quality and usability resulted in several IEEE and ACM journal publications and in various trade journals as well. A speaker at numerous trade and academic conferences, he has worked with hundreds of organizations to assess the quality of their software, examine software quality processes, and set forth measurement plans to improve software quality using systematic methods. Find out more about Philip at xbosoft.com.
Podcast Music: "Han Solo" (Captain Stu) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0