Methods of usability testing

In this article we look at the main categories of usability testing. We also explore different types of usability testing and how they are conducted.

In a previous article we have explored why usability testing is important. Some reasons include being able to find out why visitors to your website leave it once they have arrived at your home page. Another reason could be; why visitors may abandon their searches for services or products in your website, how you can improve a visitor’s user experience, how to understand visitors and how they think.

Three categories of usability testing 

Usability testing can be divided into three categories.

Explorative

This method is typically used early on in the development process to examine the effectiveness and usability of an initial or preliminary design.

The objective of this test is to evaluate whether the users can distinguish between the functional elements of an interface, for example a button on the screen, whether they value the functions presented to them and whether the overall layout and design allows the user to simply walk up to it and start using it. 

The test involves a lot of interaction between the user and a person monitoring.

Assessment

This method is the most common test and typically used halfway through the design process or as a full test of the usability of a design.

The objective of this test is to measure the effectiveness of the implementation of the design. It assumes the basic concepts such as layout and design have been decided and are implemented.  

The test involves the user performing tasks while quantitative measurements in terms of statistics are taken.

Comparative

This method compares the reactions of a user to multiple variations of a design and can be used at any stage of the design process.

The objective of the test determines which design is the easiest to use and what the pros and cons are between each version. For example if a user is tasked to press a call to action button in each design and each button is coloured different, this test would determine which version the user was more likely to respond to.

The test involves a variety of different designs and these are compared qualitatively. The result of the tests produces and improved design which is comprised of all the best of many different ideas.

Types of usability testing

Hallway testing

This uses random people rather than trained and experienced website testers. An example would be using a friend or family member who has never used your website before.

Remote testing

This involves users who are located in several different locations such as towns or countries. Each user has tasks to complete and the completion of the tasks is recorded. This is useful method because the tasks are completed in the native environment of the intended user base. Users will have a typical desktop or mobile device rather than high specification equipment that may be found in a lab.

Expert Review

This involves an expert evaluating the usability of a website either by testing it within lab conditions or remotely from home or abroad. The results are sent in for review. These tests however are not as detailed as in the case of the tests above.

Paper Prototype

This test involves creating paper based versions of an interface design either in the form of rough sketches or paper cutouts. This allows the exploration of initial ideas by moving elements of a proposed page around for the optimum layout as has little or no cost and can be completed before implementation begins.  

Questionnaires and interviews

These are typically one-to-one in their nature. Interviews allow for direct questions to be asked by the monitor to the user. Questionnaires also allow questions to be asked and allow for more structured information although rigid in their structure. Users can complete them in private, however.

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