Friday, November 13, 2009

Consider testing the "box" for "Out of box" testing!

The opening lines from the book- "Inside Steve's Brain" by Leander Kahney goes something like this-
Steve Jobs gives almost as much thought to the cardboard boxes his gadgets come in as the products themselves. This is not for the reasons of taste or elegance- though that’s part of it. To Jobs, the act of pulling a product from its box is an important part of the user experience, and like everything else he does, its very carefully thought out.
Jobs sees product packaging as a helpful way to introduce new, unfamiliar technology to consumers. Take the original Mac, which was shipped in 1984. Nobody at the time had seen anything like it. It was controlled by this weird pointing thing- not a keyboard like other early PCs. To familiarize new users with the mouse, Jobs made sure it was packaged separately in its own compartment. Forcing the user to unpack the mouse- to pick it up and plug it in- would make it little less alien when they had to use it for the first time. In the years since, Jobs has carefully designed this "unpacking routine" for each and every Apple product. The iMac packaging was designed to make it obvious how to get the machine on the Internet, and included a polystrene insert specifically designed to double as a prop for the slim instruction manual.

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To me that’s a very distinctive insight. In majority of the literature that i have gone through in addition to having experienced testing Software, the user experience has invariably been associated with how the inherent Software design make it easier for the user to learn and use the Software. User experience of a product is something that starts with Installation of software to all the actions user can do till a software is uninstalled. Here we have- Steve Jobs- recently voted as the CEO of the decade - giving a refreshing dimension to User experience. User experience is certainly something that starts taking shape as soon as the user visualizes or sees the product. User can either see the product physically in the Store, on websites or other visual mechanisms such as TV advertisements, newspapers etc.

Another inference i gained- From Software testing point of view- Do we as a testers generally consider testing the Software packaging ? Many traditionalists tend to believe that this would be out of scope of testing department in a typical organization. Why would they think so ? May be because there is a lot of emphasis given in the organizations to bind the roles with specific terms e.g. a set of people do "Manual testing", a set of people do "Automation", a set of people do "Performance testing" and on and on. So who owns the things that do not come under the high level umbrella of these terms. The above illustration suggests that a person as influential as Steve Jobs consider Product packaging as important as Product itself. No wonder Apple products are so far ahead on usability. But again, for traditionalists- there is no term called as "Software Packaging testing" so wont it come under scope of anyone ?
Well, i consider an employee's role in an organization to be as elaborate or small as he or she makes out to be. There is a general tendency to limit our learning and contribution while living under the so called influence of terminology. It may have a dependency on organization's culture as well but generally limiting ourselves to certain role doesn’t help an employee grow, whereas it might only help to just do the roles for which one is hired.

Ok. Before i sound like moving farther away from original point i intended to make. Testing the product packaging is testing the first impression a customer might have when in contact with the product. It will not require high degree of technical skills. What is more evident in Steve Jobs' thinking about Packaging is simplicity of thoughts or common sense, which unfortunately is so uncommon. I think one of the key Soft skills that a Software tester should possess is common sense that generally help reason and find many bugs that may "commonly" get unnoticed. One of the example of testing customer's first impression would be testing the way products are represented in the websites.

So, key learnings from this excerpt has been-
- User experience goes beyond the internal workings of the product.
- Do not limit the role you play in organization. There is always scope to do more.
- Testing the product packaging is more complex that it looks and more important than it sound.
- Common sense is one of the key Soft skills for Software testers.

So would you consider testing the "box" for "Out of box" testing ? Do Share your experiences and thoughts.

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