July 3, 2013

Usability Testing

English: Icon for Wikipedia Usability Initiati...
English: Icon for Wikipedia Usability Initiative wiki. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Usability is the degree to which a user can easily learn and use a product to achieve a goal. Usability testing is the system testing which attempts to find any human-factor problems. A simpler description is testing the software from a users’ point of view. Essentially it means testing software to prove/ensure that it is user-friendly, as distinct from testing the functionality of the software. In practical terms it includes ergonomic considerations, screen design, standardization etc.
The idea behind usability testing is to have actual users perform the tasks for which the product was designed. If they can't do the tasks or if they have difficulty performing the tasks, the UI is not adequate and should be redesigned. It should be remembered that usability testing is just one of the many techniques that serve as a basis for evaluating the UI in a user-centered approach. Other techniques for evaluating a UI include inspection methods such as heuristic evaluations, expert reviews, card-sorting, matching test or Icon intuitiveness evaluation, cognitive walkthroughs. Confusion regarding usage of the term can be avoided if we use ‘usability evaluation’for the generic term and reserve ‘usability testing’for the specific evaluation method based on user performance. Heuristic Evaluation and Usability Inspection or cognitive walkthrough does not involve real users.
It often involves building prototypes of parts of the user interface, having representative users perform representative tasks and seeing if the appropriate users can perform the tasks. In other techniques such as the inspection methods, it is not performance, but someone's opinion of how users might perform that is offered as evidence that the UI is acceptable or not. This distinction between performance and opinion about performanceis crucial. Opinions are subjective. Whether a sample of users can accomplish what they want or not is objective. Under many circumstances it is more useful to find out if users can do what they want to do rather than asking someone.
Performing the test
  1. Get a person who fits the user profile. Make sure that you are not getting someone who has worked on it.
  2. Sit them down in front of a computer, give them the application, and tell them a small scenario, like: “Thank you for volunteering making it easier for users to find what they are looking for. We would like you to answer several questions. There is no right or wrong answers. What we want to learn is why you make the choices you do, what is confusing, why choose one thing and not another, etc. Just talk us through your search and let us know what you are thinking. We have a recorder which is going to capture what you say, so you will have to tell us what you are clicking on as you also tell us what you are thinking. Also think aloud when you are stuck somewhere”
  3. Now don’t speak anything. Sounds easy, but see if you actually can shut up.
  4. Watch them use the application. If they ask you something, tell them you're not there. Then shut up again.
  5. Start noting all the things you will have to change.
  6. Afterwards ask them what they thought and note them down.
  7. Once the whole thing is done thank the volunteer.
tools available for Usability Testing
  • ErgoLight Usability Software offers comprehensive GUI quality solutions for the professional Windows application developer. ErgoLight offers solutions for developers of Windows applications for testing and evaluating their usability.

  • WebMetrics Tool Suite from National Institute of Standards and Technology contains rapid, remote, and automated tools to help in producing usable web sites. The Web Static Analyzer Tool (WebSAT) checks the html of a web page against numerous usability guidelines. The output from WebSAT consists of identification of potential usability problems, which should be investigated further through user testing. The Web Category Analysis Tool (WebCAT) lets the usability engineer quickly construct and conduct a simple category analysis across the web.

  • Bobby from Center for Applied Special Technology is a web-based public service offered by CAST that analyzes web pages for their accessibility to people with disabilities as well as their compatibility with various browsers.

  • DRUM from Serco Usability Services is a tool, which has been developed by close cooperation between Human Factors professionals and software engineers to provide a broad range of support for video-assisted observational studies.

  • Form Testing Suite from Corporate Research and Advanced Development, Digital Equipment Corporation Provides a test suite developed to test various web browsers. The test results section provides a description of the tests.

Usability Labs
  • The Usability Center (ULAB) is a full service organization, which provides a "Street-Wise" approach to usability risk management and product usability excellence. It has custom designed ULAB facilities.
  • Usability Sciences Corporation has a usability lab in Dallas consisting of two large offices separated by a one way mirror. The test room in each lab is equipped with multiple video cameras, audio equipment, as well as everything a user needs to operate the program. The video control and observation room features five monitors, a video recorder with special effects switching, two-way audio system, remote camera controls, a PC for test log purposes, and a telephone for use as a help desk.
  • UserWorks, Inc. (formerly Man-Made Systems) is a consulting firm in the Washington, DC area specializing in the design of user-product interfaces. UserWorks does analyses, market research, user interface design, rapid prototyping, product usability evaluations, competitive testing and analyses, ergonomic analyses, and human factors contract research. UserWorks offers several portable usability labs (audio-video data collection systems) for sale or rent and an observational data logging software product for sale.
  • Lodestone Research has usability-testing laboratory with state of the art audio and visual recording and testing equipment. All equipment has been designed to be portable so that it can be taken on the road. The lab consists of a test room and an observation/control room that can seat as many as ten observers. A-V equipment includes two (soon to be 3) fully controllable SVHS cameras, capture/feed capabilities for test participant's PC via scan converter and direct split signal (to VGA "slave" monitors in observation room), up to eight video monitors and four VCA monitors for observer viewing, mixing/editing equipment, and "wiretap" capabilities to monitor and record both sides of telephone conversation (e.g., if participant calls customer support).
  • Online Computer Library Center, Inc provides insight into the usability test laboratory. It gives an overview of the infrastructure as well as the process being used in the laboratory.
End goals of Usability Testing
To summarize the goals, it can be said that it makes the software more user friendly. The end result will be:
  • Better quality software.
  • Software is easier to use.
  • Software is more readily accepted by users.
  • Shortens the learning curve for new users.
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