Usability Refresher Training: An Example

This page shows you an example of our refresher training (this lesson is from A Practical Guide to Usability Testing). You get 7 lessons like this over a 5 week period. The lessons are sent by email, so they are easy to store on your computer for later reference.

How to observe a usability test

Observing a usability test is easy, right? You just look through the one-way mirror, wait for the point where the user slaps his forehead in frustration, then note down the usability problem. In between times you munch on the free sweets and shoot the breeze with your colleagues in the room.

OK, maybe that's a slight caricature, but it's not too far from the attitude of some people I've seen observe usability tests. The obvious risk with this approach is that you just get to see the dramatic or "obvious" usability problems. But there are some more subtle risks with this approach. For example, imagine you have a web site where participants are less likely to succeed on the tasks if they use the search function compared to if they navigate. (Interestingly, this is a common finding in the tests we run). Because this takes place over several screens and may not happen in every participant, it's easy to miss. So how can we do better at observing?

What to note down

As you watch the test, you should note your observations of the participant's behaviours as single letter codes: an approach known as "datalogging". This approach has several advantages.

For example, when lots of observations come at once, you need note the observation code only — you can then review this part of the session later on the video recording.

Second, when scanning your notes, the observation codes make it easy to distinguish one class of observation (e.g. the usability issues) from other observations.

Third, datalogging ensures you note all behaviours, not just the ones that stand out (this helps reduce bias in your observations).

Finally, datalogging is one of those things you'll be glad you did when there are problems with the video recording (e.g. when the sound is poor or when the recording is corrupted).

An example

As a rule of thumb, you should average about one observation per minute. But remember this is an average: Observations are a bit like buses (none for ages, then three come along at once). For each observation, you should write down:

  • The time
  • The class of observation
  • A short description

An excerpt from a typical datalogging entry might read:

  • 4:35 - X - Scans nav options but doesn't choose
  • 5:10 - G - "I'm looking for a search box now"
  • 6:00 - X - Search option seems invisible

Where "X" is the short code for "Usability problem" and "G" is the short code for "General comment".

If you code observations with a program like Excel, you can sort and edit your observations easily. Add a couple of columns to the spreadsheet (like "Possible fix" and "Owner") and it becomes the basis of a bug list for the development team.

This week's idea for a usability testing activity

Look around your office and identify a common physical activity that people carry out, such as conversing, using the photocopier or getting stationery. Think about the individual "micro-behaviours" that comprise this activity (for conversing, this might include "talking", "listening" and "gesturing"). Give each of these behaviours a code, and spend 10 minutes datalogging the activity. (This is a great activity to make one of your colleagues paranoid, so use your power carefully!)

What else do I get?

Refresher training is just one of the benefits of training from Userfocus.

What else do I get?


Web Usability: An Introduction to User Experience

Oct 22-23, London: Get hands on practice with user experience techniques like personas, card sorting, contextual inquiry and heuristic evaluation. More details

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