Usability testing, although often overlooked in the process of software development, is a crucial process which assures quality and performance that meets even the highest of standards of future prospects.
Usability testing leads to better performance, i.e. it has a predictive role which helps tackle problems before they even occur. ‘’Usability tests can be modified to cover other forms of testing, such as system integration testing. That, in turn, saves resources on the long run.’’ – says the article writing expert, Samantha David.
Usability testing helps boost business reputation as well – a stable product on release is always deemed higher than a buggy product. Most importantly, it is economically beneficial – usability testing reduces costs of development, patching, additional testing, etc.
So, which are the best usability testing methods to use on regular basis?
1. Participatory Design
Participatory design is a method which brings a panel of end users directly into the development process.
Based on preset benchmarks, the development team picks a group of archetypical end users who work as consultants throughout the development process: they state their needs as end users, raise concerns about certain aspects of the software, test and assess aspects of the end product in real time, offer unique ideas and perspectives based on their needs, advise about more efficient designs, etc.
Participatory design is a common practice when developing software for an unrelated professional field. For example, when developing an accounting software, no matter how detailed and precise the client requirements and instructions might be, developers always need professional consultants (accountants) to help them design and release the best possible version of the software.
2. Card Sorting
Card sorting is a simple, effective and inexpensive method which is used not only for usability testing but designing as well.
Developers create a special deck of cards: each card is filled with either general or specific topics related to the end-users’ needs and their conception of the end product. The team also gathers a group of end users.
The panel of end users is tasked to systematically organize the cards based on their experience with similar software. The task should be conducted multiple times in order to generate alternative ideas. Most importantly, the end users are urged to provide explanations for their choices.
Card sorting helps developers conceptualize the best design based on the data provided by the end users. It is a versatile method since it can be used at any stage of the development process.
3. Task Analysis
Task analysis, as the name suggests, is the method of observing the steps users take to reach a certain goal by using certain software. Developers carefully follow and learn how users reach their end goals using the software at hand. They analyze whether certain steps are necessary for reaching the end goal, whether there is a need for alternatives which would enable the users to reach their end goals more efficiently, whether they need to incorporate more options for scenarios which have not been calculated, etc.
Again, this method can be applied at any stage of the development. Used early, it greatly improves the design of the end product. Used at later stages, it helps resolve issues and create a more well-rounded end product. Task analysis is highly effective and very simple since it does not require an abundance of time and resources in order to be conducted.
4. Cognitive Walkthrough
Cognitive walkthrough is the opposite of task analysis and complements it at the same time. A group of expert developers and/or users are scrutinizing the most common options provided by a software step by step, playing out and analyzing every possible situation as the process continues. Then they create an extensive list of all the possible scenarios leading towards so-called “success stories” and “failure stories”. Lastly, they analyze what makes the success story succeed and what makes the failure story fail in order to maximize usability based on every possible outcome.
5. Heuristic Evaluation
Heuristic evaluation is the equivalent of peer review. It is the process of other expert developers (unrelated to the project) testing the software in order to identify problems in the design of the user interface. Expert evaluators test, assess and evaluate the user interface, measuring usability and efficiency based on a few fundamental benchmarks: compatibility with real-life problems and situations, using recognizable/well-established symbols and terminology, flexibility, ability for users to solve problems without technical support, consistency, etc.
This method, although not the most affordable, proved to be one of the most reliable methods for usability testing. It is most effective in larger companies, where teams could evaluate each other on regular basis.
Usability testing is a versatile and potent field in software development, which, paired with experienced, knowledgeable and innovative testers, results in higher quality end products which are easy to use and can be learnt quickly and efficiently by the end users.
About author: Olivia is a journalist who always tries to see the bright side of things. She likes to inspire people in her writings and to enjoy a mysterious beauty of twilight. Connect with her on Twitter.