UCL Innovation and Enterprise


Computer science graduate helps London start-up through testing times

1 November 2011

In late 2009, Camden-based software development company Screama launched a new product which enables companies to send marketing ads with outbound emails. It needed to try it out on potential users first, though, to objectively assess whether it met its intended purpose. Working to a tight schedule, HELO matched the company with UCL graduate Ashton King, a specialist in human-computer interaction, who substituted an expert review for multiple real-life users. Screama was delighted with the results – and Ashton was spurred on to start his own consultancy, Tigersense.

Green lights

No company, small or large, wants to risk its reputation by launching a product onto the marketplace without first trying it out on potential users. But for a start-up like computer software development company Screama, based in Camden, Central London, usability testing can be prohibitively expensive.

Cognisant of the quality of research and calibre of teaching within UCL’s Computer Science department, Screama approached HELO in late 2009 to see if they could help with the testing of a new product which enables companies to send marketing ads with outbound emails. The HELO project team found the perfect participant in MSc graduate Ashton King, who had just completed his thesis on human-computer interaction.

“It was a win-win situation,” says Ashton. “I had precisely the skills and knowledge Screama required. And I was looking to set up my own consultancy, so I was hoping to learn how to negotiate terms of business with clients, coordinate projects and deliver recommendations – all the things they don’t teach you in computer science studies!”

Ashton and a fellow student conducted an expert review, which cuts out the need for multiple real-life users and thus allows usability testing to be done more quickly and consistently. Although the company launched the product concurrently, as it wanted to go to market early in the year, the results of the testing were so effective that Screama was able to make immediate amendments to the product and re-launch a new, improved version.

Ian Collins, director of Screama, says: “Ashton’s work enabled us to understand customer behaviour and improve our targeting activities. His advice was invaluable and we were able to incorporate over 80% of his recommendations before we re-launched the product.”

The success of the collaboration made Ashton feel much more confident about starting his own business, Tigersense, which focuses on user-centered design and usability testing. The strapline? Don’t rely on commonsense.