Guidelines for Conducting Usability Studies - dummies

Guidelines for Conducting Usability Studies

By Jeff Sauro

A usability study is meant to uncover problems customers have with websites, mobile devices, service experiences, or just about anything else they use. This study is different than a focus group. You don’t want to just ask customers if they like a product or website. Instead, you need to have them use it as if you weren’t watching. While observing them, keep a few things in mind:

  • Watch and listen: You need to talk to moderate a usability session, but don’t let the talking get in the way of discovering. Just like in any relationship, you need to know when to talk, when to listen, and when to move on.

  • Don’t lead the participant: Even if customers ask if they “did it right” or are going down the wrong path and ask if they are “doing it the right way,” try and deflect such questions by asking back ,”What would your inclination be?” or “Where would you go to look for that?”

  • Record positive issues, suggestions, and usability problems: Don’t just collect the bad news. Also collect the suggestions, positive comments, and features that go smoothly. While people on a development team will often want to get right to the problems, most of them also will appreciate that users and usability professionals aren’t all gloom and doom.

  • Recruit for representativeness over randomness: It will be difficult to select a random group of customers for your tests. Worry less about the random selection than how well your test participants match your entire customer population. If you need to compare new versus existing customers or domestic versus international customers, it is more important to have these users proportionally represented than trying to randomly select them. Even clinical trials have problems with random selection, and most usability tests don’t involve life-or-death decisions.

  • Paper and pencil are fine recording devices: They’re quiet and quick. You can use custom software and Excel sheets to record problems, comments, and notes, but sometimes the nonlinear format that doesn’t need power and a clicking keyboard works just fine.

  • Have a note taker and separate facilitator if possible: The facilitator is often kept busy asking follow-up questions, troubleshooting technical issues, answering user questions, and keeping the study on track. It’s easy for someone to miss valuable insights if she’s serving in both roles.

  • Review the observations and problems after each user (when possible): Review the issues when they’re fresh with another person, such as a note taker or stakeholder. It helps get the problem list out faster and form new hypotheses you can look to confirm or deny with your next set of users.