Usability Testing, Part 1: Preparing for Testing

This is the first post in a 3-part series on developing, executing, and analyzing your site’s usability.

Testing here at Digital Services Georgia has evolved tremendously in the last year. Our efforts to ensure that the platform runs smoothly have been met with innovative ideas and technology.

Most recently, we’ve taken on the challenge of conducting more usability testing. It’s no secret that to ensure the success of a product or website, your target audience has to know how to operate or navigate it with ease. Usability testing not only provides insight into how user friendly your product or website is, but it also shows exactly how a typical user consumes it, giving you opportunities for improvement.

Usability testing is certainly a team effort and requires a bit of planning. Our most recent testing effort revealed just how true that statement is. A lot goes into conducting usability testing, so I’ve divided this blog into three parts. This post will focus on how we prepared.

Heuristic Evaluation

First, we started by conducting a heuristic evaluation, a usability inspection method that helps to identify problems with the user interface design. More specifically, it involves examining the user interface (UI) and judging its compliance with recognized usability standards.

The basis of these standards were derived from a generally acknowledged set of heuristics introduced by Jakob Nielsen, one of the founders of the user experience discipline. A heuristic evaluation focuses more on the design rather than the functionality and is useful in that it allows you to identify issues with the interface regardless of its function.

Use Case Scenarios

Once we completed the heuristic evaluation, we used our findings to create use case scenarios. The use cases are modeled around real-life situations in which the product would be used. These scenarios were meant to test the problems identified by the evaluation.

Developing use cases should involve knowledge of the typical user and what their relationship with the product would be. For example, if you’re trying to evaluate the usability of your website and you know most of your constituents use a particular type of device, your use cases should include a scenario that uses that device. Use case scenarios should not simply be how the product is expected to work, but scenarios outside the “happy path”.

Usability Testing Plan

Lastly in our preparation, we developed a usability testing plan. Incorporating tools and techniques gathered from Usability.gov, we developed the roles of a moderator and observer of the user testing. We identified usability goals and determined that we needed to record our test subjects’ interaction with the product and how long it took them to perform our use case scenarios.

Our plan also included how we would report our results and offer recommendations of improvement. This plan helped us to pinpoint our objectives and how our team would carry out the testing.

In my next post, I’ll focus more on the details of the usability testing plan.

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