Usability Engineering - Usability Testing

Usability Engineering - Usability Testing

Usability Engineering, an empirical science has quite a simple definition. It studies the human interaction and cognitive behavior of an individual with respect to performing as task. It could be as simple as a driving a vehicle or using a product. Users interaction in performing a task should be in sync with the workflow of the product. Usability Engineering as a science helps in achieving this goal.

Usability for a Product

A Product should be usable. It means that people can use a product easily and efficiently to accomplish their own tasks. A product, which is usable, enables workers to concentrate on their tasks and to do real work, rather than on the tools they use to perform their tasks.

A usable product has the following characteristics:

• It’s easy to learn
• Efficient to use
• Provides quick recovery from errors
• Easy to remember
• Enjoyable to use
• Visually pleasing

Usability applies to every aspect of a product with which a person interacts (hardware, software, menus, icons, messages, documentation, training, and on-line help). Every design and development decision made throughout the product cycle has an impact on that product’s usability.

As customers depend more and more on software to get their jobs done and become more critical consumers, usability can be the critical factor that ensures that products will be used.

Usability Engineering Techniques

Usability engineering involves a variety of techniques that can provide important information about how customers work with your product. Different techniques are used at different stages of a product’s development.

For example, as processes are being engineered and requirements are being developed, observations and interviews may be the techniques of choice. Later in the development cycle, as the “look and feel” of a product is being designed, benchmarking, prototyping and participatory design may be useful techniques. Once a design has been determined, usability testing may be used more appropriately. Usability is an iterative process, just like software development. The usability process works best if it is done in partnership with product development.

Some usability techniques include

1. User and task observations – observing users at their jobs, identifying their typical work tasks and procedures, analyzing their work processes, and understanding people in the context of their work.

2. Interviews, focus groups and questionnaires – meeting with users, finding out about their preferences, experiences and needs.

3. Benchmarking and competitive analysis – evaluating the usability of similar products in the marketplace.

4. Participatory design - participating in design and bringing the user’s perspective to the early stages of development.

5. Paper prototyping – including users early in the development process through prototypes prepared on paper before coding begins.

6. Creation of guidelines - helping to assure consistency in design through development of standards and guidelines.

7. Heuristic evaluations - evaluating software against accepted usability principles and making recommendations to enhance usability.

8. Usability testing - observing users performing real tasks with the application, recording what they do, analyzing the results and recommending appropriate changes.

Benefits of Usability: Usability engineering provides important benefits in terms of cost, product quality and customer satisfaction. It can improve development productivity through more efficient design and fewer code revisions. It can help to eliminate over-design by emphasizing the functionality required to meet the needs of real users. Design problems can be detected earlier in the development process, saving both time and money. It can provide further cost savings through reduced support costs, reduced training requirements and greater user productivity. A usable product means more satisfied customers and a better reputation for the product and for the organization that developed it.

Today many leading corporations are incorporating usability engineering into their product development cycles. For them, usability is becoming a competitive advantage.

Usability Test of Your Product

A usability test is a formal evaluation process that has as its goal improvement of the usability of the product being tested. It differs from a quality assurance or quality test, which has as its goal assessing whether the product works according to specifications. It differs from a customer assurance test, a pilot test and a beta test because the usability test ensures the collection of systematic, recorded, quantifiable data and observation of behaviors.

A usability test has these five characteristics:

• Each test has specific goals and concerns that are tested.

• The participants represent real users (6 to 12 participants are typical).

• The participants do real tasks.

• The participants are observed and recorded.

• The data is analyzed, problems diagnosed and recommendations made.

A usability test consists of these activities

• Planning the test, developing participant’s profiles, identifying participants from user pool, creating test materials, writing task scenarios and determining usability criteria and measures.

• Preparing the test location, pilot testing materials and procedures.

• Introducing the participant to the situation, the product and the procedure.

• Running of the task-based test, where participants are asked to complete a series of tasks that address the specific goals and concerns being tested.

• Participants are asked to “think aloud” (articulate their thoughts, feeling and actions). This data and the recorded video images, helps target areas that are confusing, unclear or misleading during the analysis stage.

• Debriefing the participant to get final thoughts, subjective feelings about the product and suggestions for improvement.

• Analyzing the data, making recommendations and documenting findings

Testing Your Project with end users that represent the end users of the final system. During the test, we can able to identify those areas of the system that will cause users to make errors, become less productive or be unable to complete a required activity.

The deliverable from a usability test is a report that details the problems encountered by the participants and recommendations for chance based on known human factors, cognitive and behavioral principles and recognized best practices.

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