Saturday, April 26, 2008

Effective usability and accessibility testing

Designing the UI from the project start ...

"Creating a usable and accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solution should start at the design stage and continue through every phase of the life cycle, including the monitoring of the production systems.

Designing the user interface with input from usability and accessibility experts will ensure a good design, by removing a large number of simple pitfalls and including existing best practice.

The use of well-trained developers, good tools and a variety of automated testing tools should ensure that sloppy coding does not compromise the original design. Bad coding is likely to result in some unexpected usability and accessibility issues.

However, even with the best designers and the best development process no one can be certain that the end-user will be happy, or, even better, delighted, with the experience. The only way to find that out is to test the system with a cross section of the user population.

Although this is obvious, the problem is how to do it adequately. A full user test requires documentation of:

* The test scenarios
* How the user tackled the tasks
* What was found to be easy
* What was difficult or impossible
* What errors occurred
* How long the task took both in elapsed time, number of keys pressed and number of mouse clicks
* User comments
* User ratings of each task and the complete set

Collecting all this information and then presenting it to the procuring organisation for approval or to the development team for amendment can be expensive and time consuming.

Usability laboratories have been around for many years to try and meet this need. The laboratories tend to consist of two rooms, one for the end-users testing the system and the second for the observers with a one-way mirror between the two rooms. The laboratory includes video and audio equipment to record the end user interactions so they can be analysed further off-line. The observers make notes and comments which have to subsequently be related to the video and audio and test scripts, this is time consuming and often difficult. These laboratories are:

* Expensive to set up and run
* Require skilled technicians to replay and edit the videos
* Require the end-users to come to the laboratory rather than being able to test in their normal environment
* Do not allow detailed analysis of the user interactions with system

There is no doubt that a great deal has been learnt through the use of such laboratories and user interaction design has been improved. However, the cost of running such tests can significantly increase the overall cost of the systems development and may often not be considered cost justifiable.

The answer is to use computer technology to reduce the costs and improve the quality and quantity of the data collected. With all the data in digital format the analysis and reporting can be improved and expedited. Also the use of PCs can make the laboratory portable so the testing can be done in the most suitable environment."    (Continued via IT-Director)    [Usability Resources]

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