Lesson 1: Conducting a Usability Test
Usability testing is a way of evaluating how target users are using a website. Often designers make the mistake of designing sites to meet their own needs and preferences, and assuming that other users have the same needs and preferences. This often is not the case. Designers can certainly bring their creative ideas to the site's design, but an important next step is to test their design with actual users. Usability testing helps to identify areas where your site isn't working as you intended it to, and may reveal other user behaviors that you hadn't anticipated.
At the completion of this exercise:
- you will be able to describe four common steps in a usability test.
- you will be able to conduct your own usability test on a website of your choosing.
A Typical Usability Test
A typical usability test will involve these four steps:
- Find representative users from the target population. For example, if the site is a company's online shopping site, representative target users would be consumers who shop for the types of products sold by that company.
- Ask the users to perform representative tasks
on the website. For example, representative tasks on an online shopping site might include:
- Find a particular product (as the tester, you would specify the product)
- Place that product in your shopping cart and proceed to checkout
- Find a phone number to call a customer service representative
- Observe what the users do. Write down all the steps they take, and whether they succeed or fail in performing the requested task. Don't provide any assistance to the users - just let them solve any problems on their own and write down how they go about doing so.
- Summarize your results. By observing several users, what have you learned about the design of this website? How might it be improved?
- Read Usability 101, by Jakob Nielsen.
- Your teacher will assign you to a group. The other students in your group will be the subjects in your usability test, and you will be theirs.
- Select a website on which to conduct a usability test.
- Write down who the target audience is for this website.
- Write down three representative tasks for this website.
- Draw straws (or some similar method) to determine the order in which each of you will conduct your usability test, and the order of subjects within each test.
- To conduct a usability test, you must watch each of your other group members, one at a time, as they perform the three representative tasks that you've identified. When you're testing one subject, the other subjects should not be present since this will affect the results.
- Assign the subject one task at a time, and watch them perform this task. Record your observations in detail. Document all steps that each subject took, as well as anything else you might have noticed, including comments made by the subject, evidence of confusion, etc. Don't help the subject. Just observe.
- In your portfolio, open the file usability.html in your preferred text editor. This page should already have a main heading like "Usability Study". If it doesn't, add this heading (using an <h1> element) to the top of the page.
- After all subjects have completed the tasks, write a report to post on your portfolio. In your report summarize what you learned from the usability test. At a minimum, the report should include the following three sections, identified using <h2> subheadings:
- Method - What website did you study? Who is the target audience? What three tasks did you assign to your subjects?
- Results - Were subjects able to complete the tasks you assigned them? Was it easy for them? How much time, or how many steps, did it take to complete the tasks?
- Discussion - What did you learn from this study about the website? Is the current design effective? Why or why not? How might the site be designed differently so that users could more easily perform the representative tasks?
- Usability 101, by Jakob Nielsen
Show your instructor the results of your usability test. The proceed to the next lesson.