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October E-News: Usability testing
Usability testing is a method of measuring a human-made product’s capacity to meet its intended purpose. It is commonly used to evaluate how a consumer uses a product, website, Web application, computer interface or device. For instance, you may use usability testing to determine if a customer can assemble something you designed with printed instructions. Or, you could watch users navigate your website to see if they can find product information or services.Why does this apply to your business? Research shows that successful companies rely on usability testing to create effective products, tools and websites. For more information on usability testing and how to recruit effective testers, keep reading.

Getting started with usability testing
There are three phases of usability testing: planning, testing and evaluation. Below is a broad overview of each.

Planning involves clearly outlining what you are testing, why and how. During this stage you create a scenario where you provide a realistic setting in which a person performs a task while an observer takes notes. Methods of testing are identified, and tools to assist in gathering feedback such as written instructions, paper prototypes and questionnaires, are developed during this stage. Before moving to the next stage, you may want to share your plan with stakeholders to ensure it meets expectations and do a practice run to check for flow, consistency and clarity.

During the testing phase, participants or users are recruited and testing begins. Participants should not be designers, developers, account executives, clients or employees; rather they should be people representative of your target audience. This is vital to successful usability testing and makes your findings more credible.

To recruit the right testers, it may be helpful to develop a recruitment profile: A recruitment profile should clearly define whom you want to participate. For instance, you may want to include testers with a range of skill sets in order to obtain a broad perspective. And don’t just include those who are raving fans of your product. Effective tests will incorporate those who love your product and those who hate it.

After you have your users in place, you can begin testing. Testing sessions should be observed and recorded. Provide plenty of notebooks and pens for note taking, and if possible, video record the session so you can review it with designers, programmers and stakeholders. Be sure not to guide users during the testing process—allow them to complete a task without interfering. You may, however, ask questions during the process to help determine what the user was expecting during a given phase or to uncover feelings or aggravation they may be having. Have a basket of stress relievers and peppermints available for testers to alleviate frustration—especially if a task proves to be particularly challenging. And don’t forget to thank testers with a small token of appreciation—an iPad® sleeve or a messenger bag can be a great way to express your gratitude.

The final stage in usability testing is evaluation. During this phase, you make sense of what you were told during the testing process and you use the results to make improvements to your product or process. When determining what changes you will make, you’ll want to look for patterns and review comments or concerns that came up during testing.

Usability testing can be a great way to help your company create products, tools and websites that your customers will love. For more information on usability testing, check our Blue Papers®.

Usability Testing.Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 June 2013. Web.

Usability Testing-Blue Papers.” 4imprint.com. N.p., 22 Aug. 2013. Web. 1 Sept. 2013.

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