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Understand Usability Testing and Know its Importance in Business Applications

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Understand Usability Testing and Know its Importance in Business Applications

Before discussing Usability Testing in depth, let us firstly try to answer few fundamental questions:

What do we mean by Usability? 

Many definitions of usability are available, few of them are:

1) In simple words it is "The ease of use".

2) It is the amount of effort required in learning, operating, preparing inputs, and interpreting the outputs of an application.

3) Technical definition prescribed in ISO 9241-11 is: "The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with Effectiveness, Efficiency and Satisfaction, in a specified Context of use".

What is the importance of usability in an application?


A usable application means improved productivity from the users with reduced errors & in shorter period of time. Time counts the most being the money in itself. So usability becomes the underlining factor for the success of a business.

We can consider following examples situations with usable applications.

1) A usable web-site would attract more traffic to it meaning thereby increased revenue for its business.

2) Majority of the users would return to a web site if they find it easy to find the relevant information.

3) Satisfied online customers prefer to spend longer time on web sites having good design & higher usability.

4) Majority of the buyers gives up the idea of buying through e-commerce sites that are not user friendly or poor in usability.

What is usability testing & why it is done?

Usability testing is a sort of non-functional testing. It evaluates a system in terms of ease of learning and using it.

Objectives of usability testing are:

1) To find out how well the user will understand the application.

2) To determine the comfort level with which the user will be able to interact with the system.

3) To review the user interface and other human related factors of the application.
4) To ensure that the design i.e. layout and sequence enables the business functions to be executed easily and intuitively to the maximum possible extent.

How usability testing is carried out?

It is generally carried out in following two ways.

a) Usability testing by the testers: It involves the use of general user characteristics or the attributes commonly applicable to majority of the people. These type of characteristics can be the ability of a person to see a thing once & remember it, way to view the things around us in the world, general social norms etc.

b) Usability testing by the users:
It involves the use of attributes specific to the particular type of users. User specific attributes can be his / her level of skills, handicaps or limitations if any & context of use etc. Users are observed while they work under actual working environment or in a usability test lab. Prime importance is given to the user opinions about the application’s interface. The information collected in the process is helpful to the testers in measuring the performance level of the user.

Interface designers take a holistic approach of considering all type of users as their "Customers" which could be internal customers of an application being developed for in-house use or a system under development for external clients.

Best practice is to create an application prototype and walk the "Customers" group through all business scenarios, using paper copies of different screens, windows, menus, and reports etc.

Best time for Usability Tests

It is ideal to begin the usability reviews earlier during the design stages of development. The cost of design changes remains minimal during the initial user-centered design phase.

If carried out late during the development cycle, usability testing might become impossible, since the system reaches a locked in state and often requires a major redesign to correct serious usability problems. This could even become economically non-feasible.

Best methodologies of usability Testing

Jakob Nielsen – one of the greatest experts on usability prescribes "Ten Usability Heuristics" that can be used as an effective tool for usability testing. These ten principles for user interface design are called "heuristics" because they are more in the nature of rules of thumb than specific usability guidelines.

Some of the heuristics largely used by usability testers are as under.

1) Match between system and the real world: The system should speak the user’s language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system - oriented terms. For example instead of using the jargon - "portal", we can call it a web site in simple terms.

2) Recognition rather than recall: Minimize the user's memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another.

3) Visibility of system status: The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.

4) Error prevention: Even better than a good error message is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place.

5) Help and documentation: Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation.

Benefits of Usability Tests

Timely carried out Usability Testing yields following benefits.

1) People prefer to buy software products that are easier to use. Hence products with good amount of usability testing effort have increased sales due to better appearance and being easier, faster and more effective to use.

2) Products with interface designs adequately validated by users find easy clearance during user acceptance testing phase.

3) The cost of design changes remains minimal during the initial design phase having active user involvement. Similar change would cost exorbitantly high during the later stages of development.

4) Products engineered with good amount of usability testing effort need minimum amount of end user training thereby reducing training costs to great extent.

5) The cost associated with usability does not remain proportional to the size of the project. Cost of many usability activities remains either the same or has marginal increase for bigger projects.

6) Easy to use product help in increasing the user performance and productivity due to reduced operational time & lesser number of errors committed by the users. This helps in providing greater motivation & job satisfaction to the staff using it, thereby reducing the employee turnover.

Some of the problem areas Usability Testers lay their maximum focus are:

1) Overly complex functions or instructions

2) Difficult installation procedures

3) Poor error messages e.g. "syntax error"

4) Difficult syntax to understand and use

5) Non standardized GUI interfaces

6) User forced to remember too much information

7) Difficult login procedures

8) Help text not context sensitive or not detailed enough

9) Poor linkage to other systems

10) Unclear defaults

11) Interface too simple or too complex

12) Inconsistency of syntax, format, and definitions

13) User not provided with clear acknowledgment of all inputs

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