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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Usability testing methods

Usability testing can take the form of several methods and techniques (depending on the situation and need):

Cognitive Walkthrough: Performed continually during the development cycle, cognitive workflows try to evaluate the system from a user's thought process that help in decision making (these include the ability to reason as well as other factors such as memory load). This will help in terms of understanding how the system will seem like to a infrequent user. The input for such users could be in the form of paper workflows or through a working prototype. More details can be found at this link.

Focus Groups: Focus groups are actually a method used by marketing companies whereby a group of people from the target segment are brought together in a discussion type of format. A person from the product team acts as the moderator, and prepares a list of issues to be discussed. More details from this site (link).

GOMS: Goals, Operators, Methods, and Selection Rules; a slightly difficult mechanism to evaluate and model human task performance.

Prototyping: Prototyping is a very famous method for displaying a system for internal users and for external usability testers. Prototypes can range from paper models to actual almost working types of prototypes.

Walk-Around Review: This type of study is meant to harness the observations of other people in the company who are not part of the engineering team. The idea is to place paper mockups on the walls of the company along with space for comments so that people can write their comments; in addition, early builds can be provided to company people for them to use and provide comments on. Such a method can provide a lot of useful tips (and have an incidental benefit of providing greater visibility to your project).

Field Observation: Representatives of the product team go to the actual user workplaces and observe how they use the software in their daily lives (example, if a digital imaging application for professional photographers is being developed, then a good way is to have multiple days where people tag along with photographers and observe their usage of the application).

Task Analysis: # An analyst determines the user goals and tasks, then makes recommendations aimed at increasing efficiency and user-friendliness. The objective is to determine how the user actually feels comfortable in using software / sites.

Interviews/Observations: These are one-to-one discussions. Do a thorough discussion with them about what they do, and observe their usage at the same time. This will help in doing a realistic determination about their pattern of usage.

Usability Inspection: reviews a system based on a set of usability guidelines. Experts familiar with issues of usability in design perform the usability inspection.

User Testing: Users (sampled from the final target customer segment) use the final software / site. These can be final users from the client side (if the software is developed for a specific client), or can be a sample set of users. Usability experts study their interactions and figure out what are the paint points and improvements needed.

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