Prevalence and state of user research
The practice of user research, and specifically usability tests, is not yet widespread in Italy. Even on-line systems, “business critical” and high-integration systems (such as home banking, e-commerce systems, and estimators) are sometimes launched without any usability tests being carried out for clients.Although in recent years there has been more talk of usability and of the importance of customers/users in general, little attention is paid to methods to simplify and make technology more intuitive. A strong skepticism persists, particularly towards qualitative methodologies, which managers believe are insufficient to justify redesigns since they are not based on statistically-significant samples.
Except for some large companies that are starting to consider the issue of user-centered design as a process that should support product innovation, there is a very low number of internal usability departments within companies. Instead, there is an overall tendency to only carry out studies as part of a more general implementation process that is still highly influenced by technological aspects.
One of the results, but also partly the cause, of a design culture that is little attuned to usability, is an inadequate professional service offering. Marketing research and public opinion poll institutes increasingly provide “hard discount” offers, but since they come from more of a market survey background, such polls are often performed without specialised personnel and using methodologies that are not grounded in usability. For these reasons, they are considered to be less reliable in relation to usability studies conducted by practitioners trained in the behavioral sciences.
Drop out rates
Even though participation show rates are actually higher than in other countries, the percentage of “no-shows” can sometimes reach astonishing rates, again with different percentages depending on geographical variables. In some cases it is almost impossible to organize parallel or group evaluations, particularly with specific professional categories (e.g. highly-paid professionals) that are less sensitive to incentives.
Where respondents are taken from lists of persons who have registered to participate in studies, there is a decidedly higher tendency than in other countries to provide false information, both in terms of the research code of ethics (e.g. participation in other previous studies in the same sector) and in terms of their own socio-demographic and behavioral characteristics. Consequently, the use of random sampling or customer lists provided by the client offers a sound guarantee, even if the rate of last minute no-shows tends to be higher.
Tendency for lateness
Language and translation considerations
Italians will generally be unable to interact with researchers who are not familiar with the Italian mother tongue or of Italian culture. As well as being unable to interact in languages other than Italian, it is very important to be able to understand aspects of local culture and lifestyle in order to interact correctly with the users and to correctly interpret their comments.
Therefore, sessions will produce the best result when performed in Italian. It might also be beneficial to have someone on-hand to serve as a “cultural mediator” who can correctly interpret session results based on factors that are specific to Italian culture.
Various intercultural factors should be taken into consideration when planning and performing usability tests in Italy. The first unquestionably relates to the extreme variability of local subcultures. In other words, the region or type of urban context (large city, provincial centre) produces a surprising difference in attitudes on aspects that can influence test results to varying degrees. For example, from a linguistic perspective, local variations can have a sometimes significant impact on the evaluation of technologies that base interaction on linguistic elements (such as IVR, and sometimes even the labeling of a Web site).
In Italy, there is a general tendency of test participants’ to “shoulder the blame.” Due to the delay in adopting computer technology by a large share of the population, in many cases – particularly amongst targets representing the “average” population – there is a tendency to “justify” their difficulties in using test stimuli and to attribute it to their lack of skills. This makes it difficult to carry out participatory design studies and in any case requires the involvement of an expert in Italian culture who must carry out thorough interpretation activities.
Comfort using technology
Attitudes towards technology are also heavily influenced by the social and infrastructural context. Indeed, in Italy the notion of digital divide is strongly felt, largely due to the delay in extending broadband internet access to considerable areas of the population. However, this attitude is spread inconsistently over the various channels. For example, complete inexperience of the web is often unexpectedly combined with advanced skills in using mobile telephones. In short, geographical and socio-demographic variables can have a significant effect on test results and one must have an in-depth knowledge of the Italian context in order to obtain a good sample of participants.