Profiles in UX Research: Ghostery

This interview with Validately was published on March 5, 2016. It describes research techniques and tools I used while working on an update to the Ghostery Browser Extension. The article was written by Jeffrey Steen.

Launched in 2009, New York-based Ghostery has spent the last seven years developing solutions designed to increase the visibility of digital tracking technologies. On the consumer side, Ghostery offers a browser extension that gives web users the opportunity to control who gathers information on their browsing habits. On the enterprise side, businesses can refine their digital presence by using Ghostery to streamline ad deployment and ensure advertisers are not delivering malicious or unexpected content.

Emmy Southworth, Senior Experience Designer with Ghostery, chatted with Validately recently about how continued growth of these products is dependent on user research, and how that research is executed.

What product is your primary focus at Ghostery?
Over the last nine months, I have worked mostly on the Ghostery browser extension. This extension allows users to see what tracking technologies are observing their online behavior, serving up ads, or slowing down websites. But more than just an informational resource, Ghostery allows users to customize their browsing experience by deciding which tracking technologies to block and which to allow.

For an existing product like the browser extension, how does design iteration happen and at what points do you employ user research?
User research is a part of the entire process. Using an existing user base, we conduct surveys and record interviews to determine what new features would be helpful and what existing features need improvement. We also interview users of competitor products to get more insight into the market. After this, the product team reviews recordings and survey results to determine what the next steps should be.

Ghostery used Validately moderated remote testing to garner two key bits of feedback: the Firefox extension needed a more graphical treatment (as seen above), and the initial use of red should be used to highlight which tracking technologies are blocked and not simply active during browsing.

When you have an idea of what these new features will look like, at what point do you bring new designs back to the user for further testing?
Fairly early on. We often introduce wireframes or working prototypes to users after we map out new features to see if we’re on the right track. This is where moderated remote testing is helpful, as our team members are located in different offices. With Validately’s tools, we are able to connect all of our team members during testing sessions to ensure everyone can observe user reactions.

Who is involved in these moderated remote testing sessions?
The product manager and myself will usually be in the room with the user during testing. Developers or remote team members will connect to sessions from their desks via Validately.

How do you structure the testing sessions?
I like to use rapid, iterative testing. I set up the same test with three or four different users and ask the same questions of each one. Using Validately, I can flag moments in the interview that are either successes or areas where our concepts could use improvement. During the testing session, I encourage users to speak out loud and explain what they’re thinking and why they’re making certain decisions. This helps us determine how we should restructure features or shift designs to make our product more intuitive. Thanks to Validately, we can go back later and reference flagged areas in the recorded session.

Can you give us an example of a specific feature or function that changed as a result of Validately-based moderated remote testing?
We recently launched an update to our Firefox extension, designed to make our interface more intuitive and appear less “techy.” In a dashboard visualization, I used the color red to show certain types of tracking technology. This created some confusion; many users thought this meant the technologies were already blocked, when in reality, it was simply informing them about which types of technologies were being used. After observing user reactions to this, we decided we needed to switch the color to something more informative.

Original Ghostery 5.4

Original Ghostery 5.4

Updated design for Ghostery 7.0

Updated design for Ghostery 7.0

How was Validately key to this discovery – and other product updates?
Validately’s video recording sessions allowed us to clearly observe user reactions and pinpoint product weaknesses. I’ve worked with some tools that add their logo to the screen as a watermark, and to be honest, it interferes with testing. Because Validately doesn’t have that, our software can be the sole focus of user testing. I don’t have to worry about other variables, and that’s huge.

What advice would you give to smaller companies looking at launching effective user research?
Utilize moderated remote testing for rapid feedback and lean software creation. It gets the conversation out of the boardroom and focuses on the user. Also, be sure to get a good recruitment process in place so that finding users to test doesn’t become something that slows you down. Validately offers to help with recruiting, but you need to be proactive in finding users to test your software. Create and maintain a list of people who want to help. Recruiting is worth the investment.

How did you hear about Validately?
Our product managers were using Validately when I joined Ghostery. They discovered it at a tech conference. We plan to keep using it, as it has made our testing—and consequently, our design—very efficient.

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