STC Usability SIG Newsletter
Types of Usability Methods
By Alice Preston
We are all somewhat familiar with the range of methods that can be used
to usability test our products or even early designs. But there may be
more methods than youíve thought about. How many of the following
methods are you familiar with?
- Interviews/Observations: One-on-one sessions with users. At
the Interview end of the spectrum, ask them questions about what they
do. At the Observation end of the spectrum, watch what they really do.
Itís often possible to conduct both types of session in the same
- Focus Groups: Often used in marketing well before there is
any kind of prototype or product to test, a facilitated meeting with
multiple attendees from the target user group.
- Group Review or Walk-Through: A facilitator presents planned
workflow to multiple attendees, who present comments on it.
- Heuristic Review: Using a predefined set of standards, a
professional usability expert reviews someone elseís product or
product design and presents a marked checklist back to the designer.
- Walk-Around Review: Copies of the design/prototype/wireframe
are tacked to the walls, and colleagues are invited to comment.
(Post-Itģ Notes are good for this) It also works well when users are
around for some other purpose, and this is the only way you can get
- Do-it-Yourself Walk-Through: Set up a usability test
situation, but without invited users. Make mock-ups of artifacts, but
make the scenarios realistic. Walk through the work yourself.
- Paper Prototype Test: Use realistic scenarios but a fake
product. If possible, have a colleague "play" the insides of
the product or software.
- Prototype Test: A step up from a paper prototype, this one uses some
type of animated prototype with realistic scenarios.
- Formal Usability Test: Using a stable product, an animated
prototype, or even a paper prototype, test a reasonably large number
of subjects against a controlled variety of scenarios. See How
Many Subjects Do I Need for a Statistically Valid Survey by Daryle
Gardner-Bonneau for pointers on how to decide when you have enough
- Controlled Experiment: A comparison of two products, with
careful statistical balancing, etc. This may be the hardest method to
do "in the real world" but itís the one you need to
publish the results.
- Questionnaires: formal questionnaire, matching questionnaire
(sometimes these are similar to a card-sorting exercise), phone
questionnaire. Each of these formats has pluses and minuses, with
questionnaire design being a field of its own. See www.stcsig.org/usability/topics/measurement.html
for more information on questionnaires.
Any usability test method will give better results with real user
participation, but sometimes that just isnít feasible. Letís face it,
even getting colleagues to join you can sometimes be difficult. However,
itís important to remember that there are many tools in your usability
toolkit, and there will usually be one that can get the job done.
Methods such as User-Centered Design, Usage-Centered Design (and other
variants of meaning for UCD) often incorporate one or more of these test
methods into the design process. Thatís all good, as is the combination
of heuristic and questionnaire approaches in the accompanying article.