Monday, September 11, 2006

User Testing is Not Entertainment

Remaining impartial during usability testing ...

"Don't run your studies for the benefit of the people in the observation room. Test to discover the truth about the design, even when user tasks are boring to watch.

I'm seeing a disturbing trend in which user studies are geared to entertain rather than to reveal knowledge about the target designs. The people running such studies have the best of intentions: they want to show their clients well-known usability problems in a captivating way, and thereby gain support for design improvements.

Their philosophy holds that most Web managers are clueless about users, so the real goal of usability testing is simply to educate management.

However, if you stack your test to demonstrate something you already know, you degrade your study in two ways:

- It's intellectually dishonest to run a study in order to generate specific findings. It's very easy to bias the study so that the findings are not even real.

- When you know what you want to find, it's easy to overlook other issues that might turn out to be the design's biggest problems. In my experience, when clients ask you to study one aspect of their website (say, the navigation), the real problem is often something different (say, the content). It's therefore essential to keep an open mind during user testing and expect the unexpected."   (Continued via Alertbox)   [Usability Resources]


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