Friday, April 18, 2008

Usability Testing Part 1 of 2: The Process

Have you ever wondered about the phrase "web usability testing?" In short, usability testing takes real-world users and asks them to perform tasks on a demo website. Their success (or lack thereof) is recorded and the website may be revised as a result.

Case in point: new software being developed by the IT Web Team called Tribe Voices. Tribe Voices isn't part of the re.web project, but it is related: the software will make it easy for students, faculty and staff to create personal websites. (More about this next week in Part 2.)

From the beginning, we knew two things:

1. Tribe Voices needed to make building websites simple.
2. People who create and maintain websites for a living aren't the best judge of web simplicity.

To solve this problem we conducted usability testing. Before a single line of code was written, we created a "model" version of Tribe Voices. It looked and acted like the software in every way except one: it didn't actually work.

Next, we sat down individually with half a dozen students, faculty and staff and asked them to perform some tasks in the model version of Tribe Voices. When the testers found something confusing or difficult we took careful notes. We revised, retested and in some cases, revised again.

Some of the things we asked our testers to do:

- Edit and save changes to a webpage
- Upload a picture and place it on a webpage
- Reorganize the site menu
- Customize the appearance of the website
- Rename the entire website

Our usability testing resulted in concrete changes to the software. Tribe Voices will be easier to use and understand because we took the time to conduct usability testing.

After testing was complete, our team began software development (which is still underway). Tribe Voices will be released in late April 2008-- more about that next week in part two of this post.

posted by Joel Pattison

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