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A lady called Usability Testing
Hannah Gopi

A lady called Usability Testing

One of the software testing types appears to be from Venus. Meet Usability Testing. A remarkable feature to her beauty is that she has a purpose and is certainly not just a pretty face. Why do I say Usability Testing is a ‘she’? Read on.

Let’s start with Usability Testing’s purpose. It is best described as this; to use findings to better understand your user (target audience) and then tweak your system/website/application to make the user’s stay more natural, easy and intuitive. In a nutshell, it is a way to see how easy something is by testing it with real users. However, in reality, this purpose is often forgotten.

Many iterations of testing result in usability testing being carried out, but the findings being stored under x://xxxx/xx/x tend never to be seen or heard from again. Much like that summer romance years ago that took plenty of investment - after many hours of discussing your various character flaws and how your future is heading nowhere - it amounted to nothing.

This type of testing is often exploratory, exhaustive and without bounds, so 'she' needs to be carried out in a controlled environment. Usability Testing needs to make an appearance in the early stages of development as opposed to later in production. A few businesses looking to tick the box for auditing purposes tend to carry out Usability Testing too late in the process, often just to ensure that the “flow” looks right. This results in very short, often frustrating interactions with the intended users followed by a “phase 2” to rectify.

I’ve listed a few helpful characteristics on Usability Testing below. These are sourced from my many interactions with businesses, both large and small. It is not a how-to guide. If anything, it shares my lessons learned and includes points to consider when courting this lady.

Usability Testing is not a one size fits all- She’s complicated.

Usability Testing, like most females, has different areas of interest and trigger points, depending on the kind of application under testing.

When drawing up test plans for a mobile application, as an example, a tester will consider colours, graphics and perhaps sound indicators. For a website, on the other hand, the focus will be on the ease of use, the positioning of buttons and links and the website's usability.

Choose your tester wisely - What’s your type?

One of the reasons why we choose independent testers is because they are unbiased and have no pre-disposed idea of how the application will work. They can constructively point out what is confusing or is a design flaw.

Biased web designers or developers come into the testing process with the notion of knowing what is meant. This blurs the lines and causes flaws to be missed. I will go so far as to say that this makes choosing your tester as important as choosing your target audience when designing your product/application. Experience, background and in some cases culture or language articulation is necessary.

Let's review the two types of Usability Testing:

  • Surveying (digital or in person): The tester surveys a broad audience to acquire data for analytics purposes.
  • Comparison testing: In this case, two/three versions of the system are tested to gain multiple user opinions on which system is better. Thereafter an algorithm is applied which considers the user's experience and length of interactions to decide which of the versions will be pushed to production.

In some cases, where the user types are known (like the client, broker and principal), we mimic the user types and create user journeys for each “persona” and test in that specific mindset. This can be done by testers who do not have the context to the application under test, and since the journeys and outcomes are clearly defined, it isn’t a concern.

The forgotten art of inclusive design- The nurturer in her

During the design of a website or mobile application people's disabilities need to be taken into account. Some may be colour blind while others may be hearing impaired. Usability testing should examine whether colours are being used as a differentiator and whether your audio includes subtitles. When your web or mobile app considers these features then we refer to this as inclusive design.

Knowing the difference between usability and user experience - The lady versus the girl

In keeping with the feminine analogy, the difference can be explained like this:

Usability Testing is like a mature lady. She knows what she wants, and what needs to be done to achieve her goals. She’s been through various life experiences leaving little room for surprises and uses past events to guide her future endeavours. Usability Testing is somewhat one dimensional.

There is no emotion.

User experience (testing or even design) can be likened to an erratic teenager. Her actions are all governed by emotions constantly looking for excitement and quick bursts of instant gratification. When analysing user experience, this is what is considered to be the user's feelings. What are they encountering while interacting with your system? Is the user experiencing enough to spark the correct emotions so that you get the desired outcome - to sign up for the policy or buy that handbag as an example?

To summarise, this lady called Usability Testing serves a few purposes: she ensures that the user’s expectations are fulfilled, she helps collect useful information (which could later be used against you) and identifies flaws. If she is beginning to sound like your ex-wife, then perhaps prevention is better than cure?

* This light-hearted piece was written in jest and is by no means intended to be offensive to women. The author is, in fact, a woman.