Mimi Hearing Technologies is a Berlin-based start-up with two mobile apps that deal with hearing loss:
Mimi Hearing Test: A medically-certified hearing test for the iPhone
Mimi Music: A music player that personalizes sound to the user's own hearing profile
They asked me to evaluate a new feature they had added to Mimi Music.
The challenge
"We added a custom volume control to Mimi Music and adjusted the walk-through in the beginning to support it. The goal of adding that is to help people better understand what the interplay is between volume and 'Mimification' [the process of personalizing the sound of the music]. We are hoping that by adding these both, people will more easily understand that they can reduce the volume on their device after turning up Mimification - that Mimi is different than just making it louder."
Screenshots demonstrating the new volume control feature
Research questions
Based on the Mimi team's input, I defined research questions for the study. While they focused on the specific feature in question, I thought it was a good opportunity to also look at the usability of the app generally, and the characteristics of its potential users (which the Mimi team was not yet sure about).
Volume control feature
Do users notice it?
Do users understand the information it conveys?
Do users see the connection between Mimification and volume?
How easy to use is it?
What is frustrating or confusing?
Is it useful?
Who is the app good for?
Listening habits
When do they listen to music with headphones?
How often?
How do they feel about their hearing?
Are they concerned about hearing loss?
What type of damage do they worry about?
Do they take any preventive actions?
I found three iPhone users after posting an ad on a local Facebook group offering a gift card in return for participation. I asked them to take the Mimi Hearing Test before meeting me, if possible.
3 total
All male
Aged 24-29
All [coincidentally] musicians
Outline of my study plan
I met participants for about 30 minutes in a public location. I first inquired about taking the Mimi Hearing test and their typical behavior listening to music with headphones.
I then asked the participant to complete two basic tasks using Mimi Music on an iPad. Afterwards, I interviewed them about their experience, as well as their attitudes toward hearing loss.
1.  First exploration
Imagine you're [wherever the participant said they usually listen to music with headphones]. You've recently downloaded an app you read about that helps you hear the nuances in music. Please open up Mimi Music and use it like you would if I weren't here. Just check it out and let me know when you're done looking around.

2.  Load an album
You're really in the mood for some Michael Jackson. Try playing it with Mimi Music.
Note: I decided not to explicitly call the users' attention to the volume control, since this would be giving them too much direction and could skew the results. Instead, I waited to see if they discovered the feature on their own.
Mimi Music's onboarding flow
Let the UI speak for itself
Users want to know what to do as soon as possible after opening a new app. Mimi Music's introductory screens don't help users actually start using the app effectively sooner.

U01 skipped the last two slides without noticing. He understood the app as well as the two participants who had read them. U02 had trouble getting started, tapping in several different places and asking me where to click to play the song.

➜ Eliminate the lengthy introduction (or reduce to one page), as it does not provide information about what to do.
➜ Consider showing the expanded volume bar at all times, emphasizing the importance of the volume level.
➜ Consider somehow visualizing what Mimification is doing, perhaps even giving the user control over it.
Don't make me do extra work
The fact that Mimi Music automatically loads the most played track is a great way to get users listening to their first song. But when participants had to select and play an album of their own choosing, they had more difficulty. This is most likely a key factor behind the drop-off in the funnel.
Analytics panel showing user conversion
U01 and U03 both complained about the need to add songs to a playlist. U02 also indicated that he believed he needed to manually add music to a Mimi Music library. U01 commented, "iTunes is bad enough, I don't want another layer on top of that. It's a major deterrent for me."

➜ Remove the playlist concept, since it gives the impression that music will not play unless it is added to a playlist.
➜ Consider a product that adds functionality to music players that users already use, rather than standing alone.
Simplify getting around
While users found the main view intuitive after an initial exploration, they had a hard time navigating the rest of the application.

U01 and U03 both accidentally navigated to the "Now Playing" view and struggled to get back to the main view. It confused U01 to have separate menus for "Personalize" and "My Sounds" (and "Settings" buried inside "Personalize"). All users clicked on the Share button and needed to dismiss it. U02 was confused by the home button while on the main view.

Revise the navigation according to the iOS Human Interface Guidelines, following the definition of tab bars.
Remove the "Now Playing" view and link directly to the screen with "Playing Next" from the main view.
Do not show a Share option from the main view.
Users understand that there is relationship between Mimification and volume, assuming that Mimification somehow makes the sound louder. While a walkthrough explanation may help to make it clearer, it most likely will not increase retention.
For users to continue playing music through Mimi Music, the app needs to both meet and exceed their expectations for their current music player. Improvements that might be made in this area include:
➜ Providing a briefer, more to-the-point introduction to the app.
➜ Showing more explicitly what Mimification really means.
➜ Reducing the amount of effort required to listen to music as usual.
➜ Simplifying the navigational structure and removing functionality that gets in the way.
All participants had several key characteristics in common: They were male, under the age of 30, and happened to be musicians. In the future, a wider range of participants should be sought in order to ensure results are not skewed.
Additional research questions
This study raised numerous further questions for me:
Would older users be more interested in the volume control?
How much detail about what Mimification is doing would interest users?
How can it be visualized?
How might it be controlled?
How many potential Mimi users currently use iTunes as their primary music player?
What other music players are most common among Mimi target users?
What would it take to get them to change?
Pre-test questions
Mimi Hearing Test
Were you able to complete the 2-minute Mimi Test?
How did it go?
Did you get the results you expected?
Any other comments about the experience of using the app?

Listening behavior
Do you listen to music with headphones? When do you normally do it? Where?
With your iPhone or something else?
Test script
Product overview
We’re going to be looking at Mimi Music, an app that processes the music you play to help you hear more nuances.
The goal of this test is to understand how Mimi Music can work better for users. We’re testing the product, not you, so there’s nothing that you can do wrong.
Please try to think aloud throughout the test – just say whatever you’re thinking as you’re working.
I’ll be observing and taking notes but I can’t offer any help or answer questions.
I’m going to read instructions to you; please complete them the best you can and let me know when you're finished. After that I'd like to ask you a few questions about your experience with the product and also about yourself.
Post-test questions
Using Mimi Music
[Any follow-up questions to issues noticed during the test]
What was your overall impression of the experience?
What did you find frustrating or confusing?
Was there anything surprising or unexpected?
Who is this app good for?

Attitude toward hearing loss
Do you have any trouble with hearing?
Are you concerned about hearing loss? What kind of damage do you worry about?
Do you take any measures to prevent hearing loss?
When did you first become concerned about your hearing?

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