Information Technology, Product Development, Usability Testing, User Experience, User Testing, User-centered Design

Google recently announced the official withdrawal (or some would say the unfortunate death) of  a few products which could not deliver their promise. These include but are not limited to Google Wave and Google Buzz, which failed to create the waves and the buzz in the market. Remember, these came from the stable of none other than Google, which is a leading product vendor renowned for innovation, simplicity and user experience. Why then, do you think they could not measure up and survive? I think one of the main reasons is that they failed the litmus test. And the real litmus test for your products is when they reach the real users who use them to address their needs. Popularly called as usability testing, the user testing of your product reveals a lot of insights into the success or failure of the features you have created newly or changed in your products. In this post, I wish to touch upon a few key aspects of Usability testing that you must know, but that is difficult to know!

       

Why usability testing

Usability tests help the product owners and developers to understand the performance of the product from the user’s needs, goals and tasks. It helps validate and verify the structure, layout, navigation,interaction and overall experience. Also, they help in identifying the task related details:

  • User’s goals
  • Tasks to achieve their goals
  • Time taken to perform the tasks
  • Challenges in completing the tasks
  • Breakdown areas/points in the performance tasks
  • Confusing or ambiguous areas on the interface of product
For more details on usability testing, refer to the write-up on Usability Testing at Texavi’s web site.

User testing methods – Similarities & differences

I often hear people referring the terms usability testing, user acceptance testing (aka UAT) and accessibility testing in the same vein. While all of these may be related to product, and most often involve users and/or customers, they are different in their objectives, scope, and target audience as well. In this post, I wish to dwell upon the user testing which is also known as usability testing, and bring to fore its importance and the key differences between user testing, user acceptance testing and also market testing. Usability testing is often confused and compared with UAT( User Acceptance Testing). Sometimes people do compare with several marketing related activities. I give below a table comparing and contrasting among these various methodologies. I am sure this will be a handy reference for you, when in doubt.

Engage and test with users early

Defects and mistakes are like cubs, the younger you catch them, the better and quicker, you are at taming them. The later they are identified and closed in the product life cycle, they will turn into wild tigers and pounce upon the functionality, resulting in the failure of the products.  Same with usability testing as well. UT can be done at various phases, across the development cycle of the product. Most product companies do realize the importance of involving users in the product development, but often this realization dawns upon them much later  than required. There is not much use in testing the product with users, after it is all set to be delivered in a few days. You really cannot do much to rectify the defects identified, as the time to fix is less and the pressure to deliver is more.

So, a smarter step is to start testing the product earlier in the cycle for the user experience. This would help immensely with ample time to fix the defects and ensuring that they don’t grow too  big  to solve, much like taming the younger cubs. There is  a second advantage to testing early, and that is to enable users to have a go at the product early on and this gives them a feeling of getting engaged with the product development. This in turn makes them feel that they do have a stake in the product and that they are being cared for and listened to. Another big advantage with the early testing is to do with the development team’s readiness to accept the changes and make them quickly. This is because they did not put in a great effort to churn out the artefact and so, they are far more willing to accept changes and rework, as compared to the later stages.

Secret of success – test more!

Testing early does help in identifying and resolving the defects to settle down, but it does not mean that there will be absolutely no defects coming later into the product. Well, the fact remains that the numbers might be minimized thanks due to the early testing, but still defects and erratic decisions do seep in due to various other factors. The only way to ensure that these are identified and resolved asap is by testing more of the product with the users.  Most people have this question hovering in their mind as to how much of the product really needs to be tested with users. Well, the more the merrier. The more areas, functionality, modules and dimensions you test in your product, the better for you and your product.

Note that what you are going to test for, differ from time to time, and the level of completeness of the artefact. For instance during the early stages when you test the wireframes with your users, you might be looking for an assessment of the broad level concepts. As you move on into the product life cycle and test a complete, fully functional module of the product,  you might be looking up to users for validating the interaction, information architecture etc. I give below the  the areas you can focus on while testing the product at various stages in the life cycle.

Hope this post helped you in getting the facts right about usability testing. Don’t hesitate to write back your comments/queries. Until next post, ciao!