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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Benefits of usability testing

Why is there such a lot of focus on doing proper usability testing ? Whenever there is any discussion of doing a product and plans are drawn, doing usability testing is deemed as a critical part of the overall plan. What are the benefits of doing usability testing and what can you learn about your product from this process ? Presented below is a list of queries / outcomes / benefits, many of which may seem relevant and others not so relevant:

Are the test participants able to complete the task scenarios successfully? Do the test participants understand the various test scenarios ? If they are not able to understand or frequently ask for directions or seem confused, it implies that there are problems that need to be addressed.

Do participants perform well enough to meet the usability objectives? Supposing the participants are able to move ahead in the flow, the next question is about their performance in the study. Their level of completion, the amount of assistance they required, whether they moved in the workflow the same way that the designers intended, all these are queries that need to be assessed.

How satisfied are participants with the site or application? It is very important to gauge the level of satisfaction of the users with the site / application. Preparing a series of questions during and after the study will allow determination of the satisfaction levels of the users with the overall site / application, as well as individual elements.

What changes are needed to make sure that the site / application will enable more users to perform more successfully? A usability study is an excellent time to find out which is the more user-friendly route for users. In fact, it is very much possible that during the course of a usability study, designs could be reworked in an iterative way to find the one that seems to be the most user-friendly.

Verification of user analysis data: Designs in a lot of cases have been made on the basis of previous user analysis data. Typically, such analysis leads to a lot of data about the workflows that users seem to prefer; however, it is also known that in many cases, users state something based on questions - but these can get modified when they actually see this in operation (also known as 'users finally get to know what they want when they see it'). Hence, usability studies are a good way of finally verifying the user analysis data.

Validate design guidelines: The usability testing also helps to confirm the various design guidelines that have been established for the project. These guidelines serve to set the basis of the user workflows. An example of some of these are:
* Make links predictable: Links should have the same type of UI and should work in the same way
* Make screens as simple as possible -- first screen should have only the most frequently used functions and secondary screens should have optional interactions
* Use graphics minimally -- only when necessary, and make graphics meaningful, to indicate where a link goes or what page it deals with; and
* Make the page easy to scan -- most people scan the page, picking out individual words or sentences and do not read word-by-word
Now these are general guidelines and may not be applicable for all cases.

Testing allows designers to settle disagreements and differences: Different designers in a team could have multiple opinions and getting usability tests determines which is the one most likely to work. This happens without hurting egos if decisions are made on the basis of user study.

Usability tests can help you understand how real users will use your product, and how the interface could be improved accordingly: Teams developing the product / site can have blinkered visions; getting target segment users brings you close to reality.

Results of testing give the designer ammunition to use in responding to outside attempts to change design based on whims or personal bias: Higher management or experts can have their own opinions and may want a workflow to happen in a certain way, and getting usability results helps defeat such attempts if they are based on personal whims.

Testing saves time and money. Rubin notes that "doing usability testing through the development project allows you to make user-centered changes as you go, before you have so much time and money invested in the project that it makes it difficult to make changes.

Testing is good public relations: It sends a message that the team/company is interested in what the user thinks and needs and can be used very easily for good coverage and to show that the company has done a best effort.

Testing allows the designer to cast a broad net: It helps ensure that the design is good for all users, not just those users who think like you do. Getting a cross section that is diverse is much easier if you are doing a bigger usability study.

In summary, the process can work like this - With the iterative approach, a site prototype can be created, viewed, and evaluated by a small subset of users who identify problems and suggest changes. Once immediate problems are corrected and suggestions are implemented, the site is released to a larger audience, who become part of the design and quality control team by using and evaluating the resources and sharing their feedback with the developers. Usability testing methods, by their very nature, keep the user in the forefront. User testing helped us, the designers, distance ourselves from the product. Rather than focusing on what we thought/liked/needed, we could focus on what the user thinks/likes/needs. What users say they need and want is often substantially disconnected from what they actually need and want when faced with using a product to perform a task. It is for these reasons that the only way to effectively determine what is best for users is to observe users performing tasks with the product of interest.


1 comment:

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