I use Usage testing to ensure that an interactive solution works as expected. It there is any problems with the interface all information needed to correct it is usually in the test results.
Usage tests are in essence just monitoring users using your solution witnessing what turns up. The most simple form of usage testing is just letting a friend or colleague have a try at fulfilling some major task with the help of your solution. This you can do with a minimum of effort and no cost.There are times however when this kind of simplistic approach is not satisfactory. If you need a more reliable and confirmed result the tests needs to be conducted a more scientifically.
A small group of users are as effective as a large one
In order to find problems in an interface a vast number of users are not needed. In most cases a smaller group of users does an astonishing accuate job of finding problems and showing by their actions what they are not comfortable with in the interface. in order to get reliable results to base design decisions on a group of as few as 5-8 users is often enogh. It is often better to save some budget in order to be able to conduct more usage testing then get statisktically poven data on one test.
Confident users with a clear scenario
The test session itself is best conducted in an environment were the user feels comfortable. To be placed in a test session is stressfull for most users and getting the user to feel confident is the key to relevant test results. In my experience to conduct the test at the test person’s home or office, so called contextual study, gives rise to better results than using a professional test lab. Some times it is not practically feasible to visit the users. In these cases you have to invite the user to you. In these caes a less formal test environment is preferable.
The test it self needs to be started with a test scenario. This scenario need to be the same for all users in order to give reliable the test results, but minor personal variables way be used to make the user more comfortable. The scenario have to include a little story about why and how the user ended up using the solution as well as defining the task the user should be working with during the test. Choosing a broad scenario with will give less comparable results and risk that the user will wonder of and a to narrow scenario will make the user uncomfortable and the experience will not be genuine.
Analyzing test data
All the usability tests I do is video documented and all mouse movements and key strokes are recorded. I even use eye tracking in order to pic up on exactly what the user see and does not see during the test sessions. When I analyze the test data I go through the recorded video second for second and analyze the users behavior in detail.
The most important factor is to review if the user found it natural to use the solution in the intended manor. Analyzing the users mood is also very important. If the user is confused or discouraged by the experience they are likely to exit and try something ells.
Presenting the results
The results of the analysis will gathered in a list of issues found and suggestions for how to solve them. The results is mostly published on line together with the test full length video recorded during the test session. This will enable the team to use the sessions as future reference.
The best way of presenting the results is in a workshop format were all important stake holders and other key individuals are present. Often times the results concerning more than only the interface and issues in the technology and even the business strategy behind the solution. Being able to get the result presented by the test leader and instantly discuss any issue has shown to be very appreciated by my clients.