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    Snikket: Improving Snikket's usability in collaboration with Simply Secure / PlanetJabber · Monday, 23 August - 10:00 · 4 minutes

One of the primary goals of the Snikket project is improving the usability ofopen communication software. We see usability as one of the major barriers tobroader adoption of modern communication systems based on open standards andfree, libre, open-source software. By removing this barrier, we open the doorof secure and decentralized communication freedom to many vulnerable groupsfor which it was previously inaccessible or impractical.

Simply Secure is a non-profit organization working in user interface (UI)and user experience (UX) design. They specialize in combining human-centereddesign with the complex technical requirements of privacy-first securesystems. Our first introduction to Simply Secure was while contributing to Decentralization Off The Shelf (DOTS) , a unique and valuable projectto document and share successful design patterns across the decentralizedsoftware ecosystem.

Now, thanks to funding from the OTF’s Usability Lab , we’repleased to announce that Simply Secure will be working with us over the comingmonths to identify issues and refine the UX across the project, with a specialfocus on our iOS app.

We’ve made a lot of progress on the Snikket iOS app recently,largely based on valuable feedback from our beta testers, and we are gettingexcitingly close to a general release. However there is still some work to bedone.

The expert folk at Simply Secure will be performing a usability audit of thecurrent app, as well as conducting usability testing , which is the study ofhow people use the app, and what struggles they face while completing specifictasks.

Using information from these analyses the Simply Secure team will assist withproducing wireframes (sketches of what the app’s interface should look like)and actionable advice to improve the UX of the iOS app and Snikket as a whole.You will find information on how to participate later in this post.

What is UX anyway?

The modern UX design movement is a recognition that technology should beaccessible and easy to use for everyone. Good design can assist and empowerpeople, poor design can hinder and even harm people. The need for design goesfar beyond making a user interface look beautiful. Software that is notvisually appealing may affect someone’s enjoyment of an application, but anaesthetically-pleasing interface is not magically user-friendly.

Therefore designing for a good user experience is about more than just makingthe interface look good, it’s about considering how the software fits into aperson’s life, what they need from the software (and what they don’t need) andhow they expect it to behave.

These are tricky things to get right. Every user is different, and a broadrange of input must be taken into consideration as part of a good designprocess.

UX methodologies

There are various ways to gather information useful for making informeddecisions about UX improvements. A common easy and cheap approach is to addmetrics and analytics to an app. This can tell you things like how oftenpeople tap a particular button, or view a particular screen. Developers anddesigners can use this information to learn which features are popular, whichshould be removed, or made more visible.

This approach has drawbacks. Firstly it only tells you what users are doing,it doesn’t tell you why they are doing it, or what they are thinking andfeeling - for example if they are frustrated while looking for a particularfeature or setting. Metrics can tell you that making a button more prominentincreased the click rate, but it won’t tell you if half the users who clickedon the button were expecting it to do something else! This isn’t really goingto give you enough information to improve usability.

Another significant drawback with a focus on metrics is the amount of data theapp must share with the developers. People generally don’t expect apps ontheir device to be quietly informing developers about the time they spend inthe app, what they look at and what buttons they press. Such data collectionmay be made “opt-in”, and there are modern projects such as Prio , workingto bring privacy and anonymity to such data collection through cryptographictechniques.

A wildly different but much more valuable approach is to directly study peoplewhile they use the app - a technique known as “usability testing”. Unlikesilent data collection, usability testing directly pairs individual users orgroups with an expert while they are asked to perform specific tasks withinthe app. Although this requires significantly more time and effort it producesmore detailed and specific insights into the usability of an interface.

Advantages of this kind of study include the ability to listen and learn moredeeply the needs of specific types of users, particularly minorities whoseproblems could easily be drowned out by larger groups of users in a simplestatistics-driven data collection approach. It also allows you to capturepeoples' thought processes, by asking them to explain each step as theycomplete tasks within the app.

Participation and looking forward

We can’t wait to begin our first usability testing facilitated by theexperienced team at Simply Secure, and incorporate their findings intoSnikket’s development.

If you’re interested in taking part, or know someone who would be a good fitfor this project, we’d love to talk to you for 30 minutes to better understandhow to improve Snikket. There will be no invasions of privacy as a result ofthis research. All identifying information will be removed. We will take allnecessary and appropriate precautions to limit any risk of your participation.Anything that we make public about our research will not include anyinformation that will make it possible to identify you. Research records willbe kept in a secure location, and only Simply Secure and Snikket personnelwill have access to them.

Appointment slots are available from 24th August to 3rd September. Toparticipate, registeryour preferred time and date on the calendar here 1 .

Further reading

  1. Google Calendar currently, sorry 😕 ↩︎