4 Important Usability Assessment Tips

Usability assessment can be a bit of a tricky thing to undergo, but with any design phase, be it software, SaaS or web interface in general, it’s a necessary evil. The problem is that finding efficient ways to assess this is an ongoing struggle that hasn’t seen any real prospects for end all solutions. Either a lot of complex, time consuming human trials have to be initiated, bringing in focus groups and contending thereto with the Heisenberg uncertainty problem, or one has to contend with bias and a lot of hypothetical conditions when it comes to handling this internally.

Usability assessment is a rock and hard place issue. Is there a happy medium between those two scenarios that can lighten this paradox? Well, I’m sorry to say that no, there isn’t, and there probably won’t be. However, what I can say is that leaning exclusively in either direction is a bad idea. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at a few tips for assessment that gets the most out of the two of them.


#1 – Abating Heisenberg

Ok, for those not familiar with this on these terms, Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty dictates that what you directly observe or study, you also unavoidably change. Where this is a problem in usability assessment is that when a focus group is brought in to try a design, and to opine on how well it works, they know the premise of this scenario. They may be less than honest in their opinions in light of this, due to the natural human instinct to be congenial and less judgmental.

This part can’t be really avoided, and can only be handled by larger groups that can zoom out past the limitations. However, the tendency for the team involved in design to be present for tests, and to look over shoulders in anticipation, makes it worse, because users feel pressed to behave a certain way and are yet more withholding. So, this needs to be handled by different people than the designers.

#2 – Be Routine with Test Scenarios

Regardless of the type of assessment and testing, you need to be routine with test conditions. Extraordinary scenarios designed more to benchmark or test limitations are actually unfair and inaccurate about daily frequent use under current design specifications.

#3 – Start Early

Finally, the biggest thing to bear in mind whether you’re using focus groups, or testing internally, you need to start assessment from the start. This means that the moment you create hypothetical models of a design and mechanic, you need to start assessing the usability of it in some form. This can be the “campfire” hypothetical group exchange of situations and possible scenarios, to actual analysis in action.

#4 – Prioritize Metrics

We’ve discussed the individual metrics and analytics involved in usability previously, so I won’t repeat that here. But, knowing which metrics and analytics, at which points in development, are the most important and telling, is very critical.

So, usability assessment can’t be made simpler, and there’s no set of end all tips to make it any less of a paradoxical problem solving challenge. However, these tips should help you to abate the problems within reason.

Jessica Miller
Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.
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