Ben E. C. Boyter's Blog

What is Usability Testing? (833 words)

Usability tests are manual tests used to check that the user interface is understandable. The focus of the tests are to ensure that product meets its intended purpose. These sort of tests can be subjective and are usually impossible to automate. It is important to differentiate usability testing from simply showing an interface to someone and asking them “Do you understand how this?”. It is usually done by creating a scenario such as “Can you find and add this song to a new playlist” and observing the steps that the user takes to perform the task.

Usability tests can be valuable for a variety of reasons. For online applications and sales if a website is difficult to use or the product hard to find the user will leave. Remember your biggest enemy in these cases is the back button. For all software made to be used usable software will improve productivity. This can be especially important in your sales pitch or when trying to move to a new process internally.

Keep in mind before performing any usability testing that there are 5 components relating to quality you should keep in mind.

One of the quickest ways to perform usability testing is to select random individuals and ask them to use the product of service. This is also known as hallway testing since this can include asking people passing by in the hallway. This can be a very effective method to finding serious problems for some software. Of course this is probably not the most effective way to test specialist software such as ultrasound controllers, but for anything consumer facing it can be an effective technique. Generally you can convince people to do this sort of testing for free or for very low cost if you are polite about it.

Expert reviews are another form of usability testing which can overcome issues with hallway usability testing. It is where experts in a given field are asked to evaluate a product. Generally the following 10 usability heuristics by Nielson are used (taken from wikipedia)

Of course this is a far more formal method of usability testing. Usually it will result in paying the testers for their time, however some professionals will be happy to do so without cost if you are able to make things convenient for them. Tools such as goto-meeting can help with this.