AppFolio Usability Lab

Q. Can you tell us a little about your background?
JJ – I am originally from Denver and moved out to California to go to photography school. I am formally trained as a photographer and while I was in school, I took classes in graphic design.  When I graduated I landed a job doing web design and within 6 months realized I was more interested in whether the website was easy to use than the aesthetics of it. That is what launched my career into usability and user experience.

Kate – I used to be a technical writer and administrator and saw how often people got really frustrated with the technology in their office. I just wanted to make it easier for people to get their jobs done so I went to the University of Washington in Seattle and graduated with a degree in human centered design and engineering. That is a human computer interaction degree that focuses on user research and usability.

Q. Please tell us what you do at AppFolio.
Kate – As the interaction designer my role is to try and figure out what people actually need in the software and then use that information to inform the design choices that the teams are making and then test those features. The cool thing about AppFolio is that user research is integrated throughout the entire process.

JJ – I am a senior interaction designer and I work closely with the engineering team to collect feedback from customers on new features or functionality that we add to AppFolio to make sure that we optimize the user interface so it is really easy for our customers.  Sometimes we conduct interviews with customers before we start working on a new feature to learn how they would use it and what their expectations are in terms of how the feature works. Before we get into the prototype or development phase, we do usability tests.  During these tests we have quite a few customers who have allowed us to observe remotely as they use some of these new features in AppFolio.  We will ask them to perform a number of tasks and see how intuitive the user interface is and then use this information to continue to improve on the user experience.

Q. What is the AppFolio Usability Lab (other than a cool room with couches)?
JJ – We get everyone involved in these studies so that the engineers can actually see AppFolio customers using the software live through screen sharing. When we moved into the new office, we wanted to create a quiet environment to watch these studies. So we built out the “Usability Lab” which consists of 2 rooms: one is a very small room where we actually conduct the usability study and typically only the “facilitator” is in there. They are the ones who are walking the customer through these studies and telling them what the tasks are. The other room is the “Observation Room” where people can hang out and watch customers as they are using the software.  It can also be used as a napping room…with comfortable couches.

After the study, we talk about our observations and sometimes we can make changes to improve the design as quickly as that day.

Q. Do you have an example of something that the customers have helped design through these studies?
JJ – Yes! We did extensive usability testing on our guest cards and screening features. We were able to release something and then get incremental feedback and make improvements based on what we saw.

Q. What do you like about your job here at AppFolio?
Kate – I really like how the people at AppFolio are so bright and engaged with their work and really care about what they are doing and it encourages me to continue focus on doing my best every day. That fact that our customers love using AppFolio makes it a fun and exciting place to work.

There are a lot of companies, especially technology companies, that are really seeing the value of usability and more jobs in this field are being created and the field is starting to get a lot of recognition.

Q. What do you like to do outside of work?
Kate –
I am pretty active and I love being outside. Now that I live in Santa Barbara, I have a garden for the first time. I do the Foundation workout at AppFolio during lunch too.

JJ – I trained for the marathon and do CrossFit but now I will be doing the Foundation workout with other AppFolians. One of our customers just opened a CrossFit gym in San Francisco and he told us that he is able to open this gym with all of the time he is saving using AppFolio to run his business because he is so much more efficient. We love that.

Q. What is your New Year’s resolution going to be?
JJ – I am a singer in a band and my goal is to finish our album. We have been recording an album for some time now and I wrote some of the songs.

Kate – Next year, I would like to cook more dinners at home and not eat out as much.