Friday December 13th, 2013 by Heiko Tietze and Björn Balazs
The German tax law is known as one of the most complicated laws. It is estimated that 60% of the world’s specialist tax literature is published in German.
For most topics, the wording in the tax forms is not well suited to support laymen in correct processing. There is no support or advice on what information can be given at all in the official forms. For this reason, from the early 1990s on a tax software is developed by the Akademische Arbeitsgemeinschaft, which helps to fill out the tax return.
In recent years, the market of tax software in Germany has significantly consolidated. The remaining programs have a comparable complete feature set, offer similar assistance functions and all have a competitive price. All the more important is the ease of use at this point. The more features a particular product offers and the greater the competition, the more value the user puts in a simple and responsive handling.
While the start page, previously primarily served to welcome the user and to offered the selection of the edit mode, the new function of a ‘pre-filled tax return’ will also be integrated from next year on. With this function, the taxpayer can download the present data from the tax office in his tax return and edit it further. These currently include not only the name and address but also payroll tax certificates of the employer, certificates for the purchase of annuities and insurance fees.
In a first step, we inquired two focus groups (one group was recruited from existing customers, the second consisted of users of other programs) about the user requirements. A focus group is a moderated group discussion that can be used in early stages of development for the assessment of user requirements. To foster the discussion, we developed several possible solutions, which should on the one hand help to grab the problem and on the other hand to support creative power.
This approach has proven to be very efficient. Based on these findings we developed a proposal for an interface concept, which could widely be realized.
In a usability test, we tested the prototype with a total of six subjects. Based on a scenario and directed by concrete tasks the subjects were in a usability test asked to explain, how they solve these tasks. They were explicitly asked to ‘thinking aloud’, which was supported by a structured interview:
- What is your impression?
- What can you do?
- What would you do next in terms of the task?
- What do you expect to happen?
- Please do it!
- Were your expectations met?
The results showed that the users in principle liked the new home page. Not only the existing customers but also potential new customers find the start into the tax declaration appealing and helpful.
However, weaknesses of the current implementation also became apparent. For example, when an assistance mode is mixed with an alternative interaction, the risk of an undesired exit from the guided interaction exists.
By detecting such problems early, improvements could still be made. In an unmoderated test the software (e.g. in a beta test), such findings can not be won.