Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fast, Cheap, and Good Usability Methods: Yes, You Can Have It All

Conducting usability testing fast and cheap ...

"The sooner you complete a usability study, the higher its impact on the design process. Slower methods should be deferred to an annual usability checkup.

The consulting business has an old saying: "Fast, cheap, and good -- pick any two." The notion is that if you want something done quickly and inexpensively, it'll be of poor quality; if you want it quickly and done well, it'll be expensive, and so on. Although true in many areas, this maxim doesn't hold for one important aspect of usability: methodology.

In usability, the fastest and cheapest methods are often the best.

Of course, in any discussion involving value judgments like "good" and "best," we must define the quality criteria. My main quality criterion for usability is that it change the world. In other words, usability methods must set the product development directions and result in significant improvements to the shipping design.

Another criterion that's sometimes relevant is the quality and depth of the insights you derive into user behavior. In terms of insight, you can't be fast, cheap, and good at the same time. Truly deep insights require advanced usability methods, extensive research, and sufficient time to ponder the data. For example, you should conduct field studies where you observe users in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, this is expensive and time-consuming.

When to Go Fast and Cheap
For everyday design projects, discount usability methods are the best. In fact, generally, the faster and cheaper the study, the bigger its impact because the results will be available early enough to change your system's fundamental architecture.
This is why I'm such a strong proponent of paper prototypes: mock up your design ideas on a few screens before you invest the resources on detailed design and implementation. Test each design with 5 users. And run many rounds of user testing. The cheaper each round, the more rounds you can fit within your budget, and the more you'll learn about user needs.

Some people complain because cheap and fast usability studies don't teach you everything about a design. But that's irrelevant. Yes, a bigger study would yield more results, but you'd get those results too late to influence the big design decisions. Also, the second or third rounds of testing will reveal anything you might have missed in the first, fast study."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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