Usability Testing Or Is The Cow Already Out Of The Barn?

I meet with a potential client yesterday who mentioned they do usability testing. I was very impressed with that, on average, they are ahead of the curve; and from my perspective as a usability analyst, I hope the cow is not already out of the barn.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely support usability testing and this potential client really is ahead of the curve, but let’s take a look at the purpose of usability testing. According to Human Factors International (HFI), a usability test is to, “investigate methods to determine the ease of use of a product, primarily involving observation of potential users actually interacting with the product and measuring the results”. Usability testing is critical at step 5. And to carry this concept of the different steps a little further, it might also be said that persona development is important for step 4 and user profile development is a good step 3.

I think the cow gets out of the barn around step 2. For me, it’s kind of like when in the middle of measuring your project effectiveness you sit down to establish your project vision. This is very important step to do, but it’s a lot better if it is done earlier in the process. My I suggest, step one, sit down with your coffee, step two, sit down with your end users. I apologize at the attempt at humor. Talk with your users early and often.

I have a question (hint: the answer is yes), what do you think usability testing would more of? Confirm you are headed in the right direction or, discover what isn’t effective because users have absolutely no idea of how it works if; you never spent much time talking with them while they were still in the barn? Again, my apologizes to any users or cows who I have just offended.

Talk early and talk often with users. One comment regarding the definition of a user, a usability analyst, a subject matter expert, a stakeholder and/or a member of the development team, they are not the user. A user has no insider knowledge of the product. A user almost always does not work for the company providing the product. And, talking to users is not the same as allowing them to make your decisions for you. I was quite surprised when I learned that someone I knew gauged the success of our conversations by how well they were able to change my viewpoint to match their viewpoint. And from their perspective, I was not listening if I didn’t see things their way.

Talking with users is critical for gathering information to help guide the development team and stakeholders in making informed decisions. Usability testing is critical and makes the most use of company resources if it is preceded by frequent user interaction. For me, the cart and the horse is like direct user interaction and then usability testing.

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