Most Effective Usability Inspection Methods

In the world of usability, you’re presented with a lot of choices you have to make, such as design patterns, navigation models, and a host of other things such as prototype practices and the like. One of the other things you find yourself presented with choosing are usability inspection methods. There are a ton of these to choose from, and they all have their merits. It’s become a bit of a polarizing topic in some circles, with people speaking out for some of the more complex ones replacing tried and true (if less efficient) approaches.

Well, these complex usability inspection methods may be more efficient when implemented properly, but they’re often a nuisance to come to terms with, most of the time. You don’t likely have time to spend on getting to understand the nuances of these absurdly complex methods. You need to get going with inspection, not spend an eternity grasping convoluted methodologies for handling the inspection!

So, what I’m going to do is point out the most commonly used inspection methods, and their strengths and weaknesses below. These are the ones that are most commonly used, fastest to come to terms with, but as a result, are also some of the less overall efficient approaches.

#1 – Focus Groups

Previously, we pointed out that the bigger problem with focus group inspection is what’s known as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Basically, when you study a system, you also change it. In some inspection methods (it’s of course present in all methods), this isn’t a problem, but it directly denigrates the data when it comes to focus groups.

People know that their opinions are judging someone’s hard work and ideas, and this can inhibit their honesty, or make them overly judgmental if they have that personality type. To combat it, you either have to have a large scale study, or spend a fair deal of time picking the right personality types which this issue is less prevalent with.

#2 – Field Study

Field study is similar, but involves less direct observation. Usually, the prototype being used has to have some level of modification made to properly record the data and analytics for field study. In field study (commonly), you deploy a prototype to the public, and let them use it. Either the design reports back on how well it works or not, or the users must answer questionnaires about their experiences.

#3 – Heuristic Evaluation

This one is almost always used along with the other two, if they are at all used, but can also stand alone. In heuristic evaluation, a group of users (either large or very small) evaluate the system step by step by a point by point guideline for standards and expectations.

They perform repetitive tasks, each time evaluating a key aspect within the task each time. It is long, laborious and costly, but this is the most thorough and easy to grasp approach that completely circumvents the difficulty of data capture, or the influence of the Heisenberg effect.

These are only three usability inspection methods, and they’re the most commonly used and quickest to understand. If these aren’t viable in your situation, there are many more to look at, but do know that from here, they become increasingly convoluted, in all honesty.


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.