Saturday, June 30, 2007

Differences between Participants and Users: Representative or Not?

Selecting users for usability testing ...

"Rule 1 for usability testing: get representative users”

Read something like that? Said something like that? I certainly have. And I definitely agree with it, on the whole. But not always: so I thought I’d muse on the issue in this month’s column.

WHY WE NEED REPRESENTATIVE USERS (but don’t always get them)
Usability is about “specified users with specified goals in a specified context of use”, to use the inelegant but accurate wording of ISO 9241:11. So we need participants to be ‘specified users’. And given that we’re unlikely to be able to get every one of the specified users to take part, we compromise and aim to choose them so that they are ‘representative’.

But it’s not always possible or convenient to find representative users. Or maybe we’ve recruited what we think are indeed representative users but they turn out not to be as representative as we hoped. Does that mean the testing was a waste of time?

My view is: probably not. Any testing is usually better than no testing. Let’s look at one particular dimension: experience with the product.

THINKING OF USERS ACCORDING TO THEIR EXPOSURE TO THE PRODUCT
Your product could be a website, application, device, whatever. Does it feel like the centre of your world? OK, so let’s envisage that. We’ve got you and your closest colleagues or clients: they’re the core team working on your product. Surrounding the core, think of a ring of people with expertise in the concepts and ideas of your project – maybe they’re marketing people, sales people, power users, trainers. Surrounding them, think of your repeat and regular users. And then the outer ring: novices, occasional users, new customers.

Every repeat or regular user was a novice once; power users used to be regular users. Maybe your core team were never users, but there’s a good chance that they have a distinct grasp of how the thing should be used. So as we progress from the outer ring to the core, we’ve got a gradual increase in knowledge."    (Continued via Usability News)    [Usability Resources]

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