Usability Review: Google Docs

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I started writing this usability review when I was given a task for the role of Product Designer and I thought I’ll share this with all UX and Product Design aspirants so here it is!

The objective of the task was to show my competence in

  1. Understanding the tasks that users want to achieve, and
  2. Assessing how well certain tools help them in achieving those tasks.

The collaboration tool given to me to assess was Google Docs.

This review is divided into 2 sections :

Part 1 mentions the top collaboration related tasks that users want to achieve with Google Docs.

In Part 2, I critique my experience to achieve the tasks mentioned in part 1 with their respective pain points and scope for improvement.

Before I start explaining the review in detail, I’ll introduce the process I followed before I started writing the review.

  1. To identify the top collaboration tasks, I visited the official website of the Google Docs to view the features it provided.
  2. I referred to multiple sources where users reviewed the product to empathize with their likes, dislikes, and suggestions regarding the product.
  3. Apart from online sources, I also asked a few of my friends who had used Google Docs to know what they primarily used it for and whether they performed any collaborative tasks on it.

Since I was a frequent user of Google Docs, I could not solely rely on my experience of performing the collaboration related tasks. Hence I decided to perform Usability Testing with the help of my friends. I selected those friends only who had barely or never used Google Docs before and asked them to perform the tasks I gave to them as well as to describe their experience while performing those tasks verbally while I noted their pain points, suggestions and other key insights that I could derive from it.

After collecting all this data and joining all the pieces together, I completed the review which is as follows :

The purpose of Google Docs is to create and edit word processing documents, real-time collaboration, and document authoring.

The top collaboration related tasks that users want to achieve with Google Docs are :

  1. Sharing a document with different types of permissions.
  2. Adding comments/replies in the form of feedback.
  3. Giving suggestions for edits in the document.
  4. Working on the same document simultaneously using Real-Time Collaboration.
  5. Discussing the work regarding the document using the Chat Feature.
  6. Keeping track of previous changes using the Revision History Feature.
  7. Maintaining easy accessibility and back up of the document using the Cloud Storage Feature and Multiple Device Compatibility Feature.
  8. Using the document with 3rd party applications.

The critique for my experience to achieve the above tasks along with the respective pain points and scope for improvement are as follows:

1. Sharing a document with different types of permissions.

Experience: The share button is noticeable, easy to identify and use for sharing the document with limited access to co-workers.

Pain Points: In case the user wants to exit from the share modal that appears after clicking the button, the user has to click “Done”. There is no other way to exit the modal which slows down productivity.

Scope for improvement: Add the functionality to close the modals by clicking anywhere on the screen outside the modal.

2. Adding comments/replies in the form of feedback

Experience: Adding comments is difficult because the respective icon is not easy to locate and identify in order to perform the action.

Pain Points: The icons related to comments are not well located and do not convey the message of the functionality. Better icon usability is required.

Why it is difficult to add comments/replies in Google Docs

Scope for improvement: The icons should be used with a text label to reduce ambiguity and communicate the meaning of the feature.

Also, using Jakob’s Law, since the majority of the users have used MS Word for years before Google Docs, users prefer that similar tools will have a similar location for icons/menu options.

While the text editing tools can be identified easily, the collaboration tools are not easily noticed and cannot be noticed easily which affects user experience.

Hence, an improvement will be to display all the text editing tools as one group and all the collaborative features such as Revision History, Comments, Suggestions, Chat Window as another group or menu like the “Add-ons” menu that is already present.

3. Giving suggestions for edits in the document.

Experience: Adding a suggestion is difficult because there is no direct location of the option/icon. It is located in a dropdown and hence is not easy to discover.

Also, there is no instruction to show how to use the suggestion feature which affects user experience.

Pain Points: It is difficult to locate the suggestion option on the interface until the dropdown on the top right of the interface is selected.

Even after selecting the option, it is not intuitive for the user to figure out the usability of the feature.

Pain Points when giving suggestion (1/2)
Pain Points when giving suggestion (2/2)

Scope for improvement: This can be improved by making the option noticeable and by mentioning instructions regarding the usability of the feature either below the option or on hover.

4. Working on the same document simultaneously using Real-Time Collaboration.

Experience: It is easy to work simultaneously on the same document without confusion because the different colored cursors of other users along with their respective names are easily identifiable and understandable.

Pain Points: I did not come across any pain points during my experience of doing this task because it is easy to notice and identify collaborators working simultaneously.

Scope for improvement: A minor improvement that can be done is to display the cursor of collaborators when selecting certain menus and options too.

5. Discussing the work regarding the document using the Chat Feature.

Experience: The chat feature is only noticed when the user looks at the images of the other users working at the same time.

Pain Points: The chat icon is not noticeable and the feature is difficult to identify until the user hovers on it.

Pain Points when using the Chat Feature

Scope for improvement: A text label “Chat” should be added with the icon to reduce ambiguity and communicate the meaning of the feature.

6. Keeping track of previous changes using the Revision History Feature.

Experience: It is difficult to find the Revision History option because it is located inside the File menu.

Also, the underlined text “All changes saved in Drive” does not communicate the meaning that it is linked to view the Revision History.

Pain Points: The location of the Revision History option is unknown to a new user and the link “All changes saved in Drive” does not convey that it is linked to Revision History.

Pain Points when using the Revision History feature

Scope for improvement: Add a Revision History button to make it noticeable and easy to identify or change the “All changes saved to drive” to something like “Click here to view Revision History” that conveys the meaning of the functionality better.

7. Maintaining easy accessibility and back up of the document using the Cloud Storage Feature and Multiple Device Compatibility Feature.

Experience: The document is easy to access through any device since Google Docs is browser-based and there is no worry about losing your work because of the auto-save feature.

Pain Points: The user still tries to explicitly save the document because the meaning of the auto-save feature is not conveyed properly.

Scope for improvement: This can be improved by displaying a toast message whenever a user tries to save using Ctrl + S.

8. Integrating the document with other applications.

Experience: The process of using 3rd party applications is easy to identify because of the Add-ons menu.

Pain Points: I did not come across any pain points during my experience of doing this task because the Add-ons menu is easy to notice.

Scope for improvement: I do not think there is any improvement required for this feature.

Additional Pain Point + Scope for Improvement

Pain Point: Using Google Docs for a longer period of time can cause strain to the eyes due to the white interface.

Scope for Improvement: An improvement would be to create an option for a dark theme for those who want to work for a longer period of time without any strain.

This was a great experience and I hope to solve tougher problems in the future. I’d love to have some feedback on this, so feel free to comment.

Disclaimer: I am a student working on my UX and Product Design skills, trying to improve, by looking at real-life design scenarios. This review/study is in no way an attempt to mar Google Doc’s online image. No copyright infringement intended.

I do development and design and I regularly post on my design account on Instagram called moodyhuman. You can check out my work and experiences there and I’m going to try to post more articles and start posting case studies too so look out for more! 🙂

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