Usability testing is all practice, not magic

I just returned from Westminster Hub where I ran a workshop called “Usability Testing How To’s for Small Teams (and Little Budgets). The workshop is based on my experience setting up the usability testing arm at Future Workshops. As one UX person with fifteen developers, I learned a lot about getting by on a tight timescale.

The group of attendees tonight was great! I was so impressed with how eagerly everyone learned, and how natural they were at facilitating tests. A few things that came up in the discussions were very insightful, and echoed a lot of my experiences running usability tests:

It can be done (today!)

As one of the workshop participants cleverly concluded, there’s no magic involved. Usability testing can be done with more budget, more time, more trained staff, better recruitment, better equipment. The question is whether it’s done at all. It’s entirely possible to hold cheap and quick usability tests and still learn a lot. There wasn’t one group during the workshop that didn’t discover a serious usability problem in just one hour!

Soon after the test part of the workshop began, I started hearing familiar sighs across the room. Cringing soon followed, and then hushed group conversations about things to definitely put in the fixes list. Some attendees had never done usability testing before but were able to facilitate a test and find useful results right away. It can be done!

Workshop photos on Flickr

Instructing a test participant on her first scenario – all smiles so far!

Workshop photos on Flickr

Testing a website with a very specific audience group

It’s hard to stay quiet

Facilitating a test well takes some practice. It always sounds easy on paper, but as the workshop participants quickly realized – theory is different from practice. It’s tough sitting across from a person and watching them struggle with an interface without interfering.

I recognized a lot of the questions from when I was first learning how to facilitate: when do we interrupt the participant? What do we do when they get stuck? How do we ask questions without leading? My formula: if they’re not upset, stay quiet. If they are, tell them something nice.

Challege: DIY recruiting with a specific audience

When a website or app have very specific audience characteristics, recruiting can be a pain. So what do we do? One of the work groups decided to test their own product: a website with data on how many people are killed in drone attacks in conflict areas. They had to make due with participants from the rest of the group attending.

The key for them was setting the right context. A real user would be knowledgable and motivated to find out about drone attacks. To simulate this, they asked participants to read an article about the issue, mentioning their website, and gave them specific instructions on what information to look for. They discovered some usability problems to fix in the process.


There will be another run of this workshop on 22 January, 2014 in London. Would love to see you there!

Meanwhile, my slides are on SlideShare: http://slidesha.re/1aIB9CU

And some photos on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/grinblo/10466409794