What we mean when we say “Usability Studies”

| June 17, 2010

the “elevator pitch”: a means for  us to gather feedback on the design of the system in the context of specific real world tasks.  By asking users to use the system (or a reasonable facsimile) we can observe opportunities to improve the design, catching them at this stage of the design process rather than later when changes would be more costly.(Brown)

In essence, Usability isn’t asking users what they want, it’s seeing what they need.

The process is relatively simple, you isolate your user groups, you establish a task list for them to perform, and then you carry it out. (more detailed explanation here)

The good thing about this process, is that it’s pretty flexible.  You can test a specific group of your users, you can test a new feature, you can buy all the fancy software and analysis tools or you can use a camcorder and spreadsheets.  You don’t need that many users (Nielsen, 2000).  The concern with doing it yourself would be lacking the ability to take an unbiased look at the thing you have created (worst case scenario example).

With user testing, you can discover things like when and why people leave the site, how and why they are using the various tools available to them.