Monday, April 30, 2007

Location is Irrelevant for Usability Studies

Usability testing in multiple locations not important ...

"You get the same insights regardless of where you conduct user testing, so there's no reason to test in multiple cities. When a city is dominated by your own industry, however, you should definitely test elsewhere.

As long as you're testing within a single country, there's no reason to expend resources traveling to multiple cities and conducting the same usability study again and again. You'll simply observe the same behaviors repeatedly, and learn nothing new. Better to save your budget and spend that money on new tests of either additional design ideas or your competitors' designs.

This conclusion -- that the test location doesn't matter -- is different than the usual lesson from market research, where you find different results in different regions of the country. It's therefore common to conduct focus groups in 4 to 5 cities, or more if the budget allows.

Because traditional wisdom recommends conducting research in multiple locations, we've done so for many projects over the years. But, except for the few special cases discussed below, we've always identified the same usability findings, no matter where we tested. By now, we can clearly conclude that it's a waste of money to do user testing in more than one city within a country.

Behavior vs. Opinion
Why does usability differ from market research when it comes to the number of required study locations? Because with usability, we test behavior, not opinion. Further, we test that behavior with a defined artifact (i.e., a specific user interface).
People obviously have different attitudes in different regions, including differences in what they'll pay for a given product and in how many people will want the product in the first place.

But when it comes to reacting to a set of interaction design options, people usually interpret the screen elements the same, no matter where they live. What's easy in one city is just as easy in another city. For example, breadcrumbs facilitate navigation of hierarchical websites equally well in Los Angeles, New York, or Boise, Idaho. You don't need to test your breadcrumb design everywhere. Similarly, many Web users rely on search, not because they live in a rural or an urban environment, but because search is an inherently useful way for users to gain control of a vast and diffuse information space."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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