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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Guidelines for usability testing

When we were going in for usability testing, I was part of the team that would evaluate the results from the usability testing, and it was important for me to understand more about the usability testing process. Besides understanding the need for usability testing and the process, it was also important for the team to understand what the guidelines were for usability testing. They would also help understand how usability testing works. Some of the guidelines (both from reading the literature on this subject, and also from overall study of the process in practise) that I learnt were:

1. Deciding the target audience for your usability testing: Given that the outcome of the usability testing will help in determining changes to your design strategy, it is absolutely essential that the usability testing be done among people who are good representatives of the target subject; this means that the selection should be done carefully. Avoid the temptation to cut corners, or to select neighbors who seem to represent the target segment. Devise a set of queries that will help determine if the selected people actually are good representatives; similarly, use experts to help you get good target subjects. And, other than a few cases, don't let them know the name of the company - it may cause bias to appear in their results.

1. a) Different users may specialize is separate workflows, for example, if you want to get testing done of a new shopping site catering to working professionals, you should design an appropriate query form. Review the answers so that you can get an idea of which area a user would move more towards; this may help in deciding the exact set of users.

2. Before actually starting the testing: Remember, your tests will only be good when the people taking part are comfortable with the whole process. They need to feel that the environment in which the test is taking place is similar to that of their home or work environment. And of course, stay easy on the legalese - you may want to make sure that your in-process development is safe and want them to sign NDA's, but if you may it full of complicated legal terms, they are likely to get confused. If your office is not exactly very accessible, consider doing the testing in a more convenient location.

3. Starting the usability testing: Don't plunge the users directly into the testing process. Get talking with them, explain what the website is about and what the URL is; get some initial feedbacks about what they expect from such a site. If they mention some phrases or some other such term, then it is good to understand these statements or terms. Getting some words of polite conversation in makes them more comfortable.

4. Decide what you want to get tested: When deciding to select tasks for review by users, it is absolutely essential that you dump the notion about favorite sections of the site. You may have added a great new section that was very difficult to develop, but if it is not critical to the success of the site, then it is not a high priority to get an evaluation done. You should select tasks that are critical for the success of the site.

5. Scenarios are always better for such evaluations: Again, you need to talk in the language of the customer. You may have had great internal debate on the naming of features, but if you asking customers to evaluate some flows, then you should:
- Ask them to try out workflows / use cases (for example, you need to find some white shoes for your kid, and pay for them through the card that you normally use)
- Use simple language (avoid more technical words such as payment processing, and instead use phrases such as payment options)
- Set tasks that have a logical conclusion

6. The actual task execution: It is almost a core logic of usability testing that people should not be tasked very heavily during the process of usability testing. Get them to do one task at a time, and focus on their responses during the execution of the task. In a lot of cases, users may have to be given inputs during the course of the task (say, you want them to test out the convenience of posting videos to YouTube); in such cases, make sure that they have the equipment needed for the task (in this case, they either have a sample of home videos, or they have a camera readily available)

7. The participant is not at fault: Sometimes, you get users struggling during the usability test, or they get stuck at places where you would think that things are very simple. Remember, all their feedback is important, and if they are not able to do some tasks or part of tasks, then it is most likely a reflection of the task rather than any inherent inabilities on the part of the contestants. Further, if they are confused by something, or they have to make a choice, don't guide them down some path (you would most likely introduce a bias if doing so). If you are asked a direct question, then reply, but not venture an opinion.

8. Don't get distractions into place: Once the user has started, minimise distractions. Prevent people from coming or going in the location, and this includes a lot of traffic in front of the room where the test is happening. If people need to see, then they should see this on a video conference or some other facility. Test subjects can get conscious if there are too many there.

9. The user has completed their testing: If the user is done, then you need to gather as much information as possible. Ask the user about their impressions, about what worked well and what did not. Ask about what they feel could be done to improve things, and whether what they saw was how they would have done things. This could involve also asking them about what they recall about the software or the site - this helps in highlighting the parts that remain in the minds of the tester.

10. Go through the recording of the tester interaction; this helps in determining where the tester was able to move fast, where there was hesitation, and most importantly, where the tester expected to find something and did not.

11. If you are still not clear after going through with a number of testers, use more ! Your product success depends on getting the flow right, and if this means that you need more usability testing done, then so be it.

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