I’m working on a workshop for STC Atlanta where I’ll teach technical communicators the basics of running a usability test. In the six years that I’ve been participating in usability tests, I’ve learned a lot, but the majority of what I’ve learned has come through the past year’s experience of being responsible for planning and executing tests on my own. The trenches, it seems, are very educational places.
Still, I recognize that my perspective on usability testing is fairly limited, so I decided to tap the collected experience of the people I follow on Twitter. I posed this question:
Here are the responses from the awesome people I’ve connected with through Twitter. Each person’s contribution is linked to their Twitter profile; follow them and I guarantee you’ll learn a lot from each of them.
Follow the tracks of people who know what they’re doing.
Make sure your goals for testing are appropriate.
Take the time to prepare your test properly.
Make test participants feel comfortable–you need them to be relaxed.
Don’t taint your results.
Shut up and get out of your own way.
Embrace awkward moments–they’re often goldmines.
Caveat: Explore usability testing, but understand its limitations.
Robert Hoekman, Jr., wrote another article about usability test on A List Apart recently. His article The Myth of Usability Testing clearly makes the point that usability testing is not a silver bullet. Usability testing can tell you a lot about where your designs do and don’t work, but it’s not a perfect, scientific, empirical tool. If you use usability testing as your only method of validating and prioritizing design work, you won’t produce the type of work you really want to. To be most successful, you need to employ a plurality of methods for evaluating designs, then blend all that data with a healthy dose of design intuition. Robert makes the point much better than me, though, so go read his article. And, of course, follow him on Twitter–he’s @rhjr.