Usability Testing

About Usability Testing

Usability testing is a practice intended to evaluate a product or information product by testing it with users against a pre-defined set of criteria. Usability testing involves the following activities:

  • Planning a Test: Usability test plans state the specific information or research need and outline test methods and instruments that will be used to obtain data.
  • Developing Test Materials: Test materials must be developed and prepared for the test. This may consist of testing systems and environments, test products such as draft documentation or low-fidelity Web designs, or other products.
  • Recruiting Test Participants: Test participants are recruited from user descriptions and target audiences defined in the test plan. Users are compensated with a variety of incentives, including product-related merchandise, free meals, or other attractive items.
  • Conducting the Test: Tests are conducted according to the plan, and the results documented by test administrators.
  • Analyzing Test Results: Test results and qualitative observations by the administrators are evaluated using methods defined in the test plan. Results are analyzed and assessed according to the goals in the test plan.

Online Resources

The STC Usability and User Experience Special Interest Group has a usability toolkit of forms and other materials to help you plan and conduct your test.

Dana Chisnell, STC Fellow and co-author of Handbook of Usability Testing (Rubin and Chisnell, 2008, Wiley) blogs about usability testing. The following posts are particularly useful:

Recommended Books

Below are two textbooks by STC Fellows, both with lots of practical advice:

  • Barnum, C. (2010) Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set…Test! Morgan Kaufmann
  • Rubin, J. and Chisnell, D. (2008) Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design and Conduct Effective Tests (2nd Edition) Wiley

A short, lively book is Steve Krug’s inimitable style, aimed at people who want a quick way to conduct their first usability test: Krug, S. (2009) Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems New Riders

The following articles provide more information about usability testing:

How to Design Documentation with Users in Mind