Anatomy of a Usability Testing Plan: Dana Chisnell at EDUI2009 (Part Three)

(Originally published in 2009 and still highly relevant.)

In her all-day day session at EDUI2009, “Usability Testing Without the Scary,” Dana Chisnell laid out the entire process for usability testing. Breaking the process down into small parts that are easy to understand, Dana showed us how to be comfortable with the process, rather than intimidated. Here’s what she shared about creation of the plan for usability testing.

Someone who will try the design, somewhere to test and something to study.

As Dana puts it, the essence of testing is “sit next to someone and watch them do stuff.” Pretty straightforward. You just have to know what you want them to try out, and how to watch and ask questions so you can learn what they are thinking as they work with your design and functionality.

To support great site design, each phase of the development process should be supported by input from users. It’s also essential to have multidisciplinary teams working on development (ie. marketing, IT, management, etc.).

Although it’s highly useful to look at best practices, guidelines and conventions for usability, they aren’t enough to guarantee usability and accessibility.The nuances of implementation can conflict with best practices, and best practices can even conflict, cancel each other out, or magnify certain issues.  “Informed designs come from data,” says Dana.

The goals of usability testing should be to identify problems in design that lead to

  • misinformation
  • incomplete transactions
  • need for support from administration, management or staff

What tests and measurements to do when

–When you want to map out what the design should do, you observe and listen to users through user testing, focus groups, participatory design, surveys, heuristic evaluations and setting benchmarks.

–To figure out how the design should work, use participatory design, paper prototyping, walk-throughs, usability testing and heuristic evaluation

–To determine whether the design actually does what you want it to do, conduct usability tests, do heuristic evaluation, follow-up studies and comparison of benchmarks.

In the early part of the process, do things that help you learn, that are exploratory and formative. In the middle, do things that help you assess and summarize. And at the end, validate and verify when you’re close to launch but have enough time to incorporate changes.

The User Testing Plan

It’s important to create a test plan. It serves as your blueprint for testing, is a communication vehicle, clarifies needed resources, is a focal point for each test, and lays out milestones. It should include:

  • Goals and objectives**
  • Research questions**
  • Participant characteristics**
  • Description of method**
  • List of tasks**
  • Description of test environment
  • Say what the moderator will do
  • List of the data you’ll collect
  • Description of how the results will be reported

**If your time is limited, focus on the starred tasks.

Next: Selecting participants

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