I was talking to a cash-strapped client recently (aren’t we all!) about usability testing. They knew they needed to do some… but didn’t think they could afford to pay for it to be done. They were right: usability agencies tend to be expensive – but the good news (how we love to bring you the good news!) is that you really can do a pretty good job yourself if you can set aside a little time.
Of course, they wanted to know how. So I’ve been digging around online for the best advice and this is it, courtesy of Jakob Nielsen.
The easiest, cheapest and most effective usability study is what he calls a ‘thinking aloud’ study. This is what you do:
- Recruit at least 5 representative users.
- Get them to carry out some representative tasks, saying what they are doing as they do it.
- Make sure you keep quiet while they do the talking.
What are the advantages of this method?
- It’s cheap -1 day of your time is usually enough for you to sit and take notes of what your participants say as they carry out the tasks, plus a small gift for your participants.
- It’s relatively robust – even if you aren’t an ideal facilitator, your findings should be useful (as long as you don’t put words into their mouths!)
- It’s flexible – you can do it at any point in the development process.
- It’s convincing – your developers will like to know what real users think.
Can it really be that easy? Well yes, it is – but there are a few things you need to be careful about:
- It’s not good for detailed stats.
- It’s an unnatural situation, so it can be hard for participants to keep up the monologue.
- Most people want to seem clever, so there can be a tendency for people to think and ‘edit’ before they speak – you want them to speak as they think.
- You may need to prompt to keep the monologue flowing – or to ask clarifying questions from time to time – but you need to do your utmost not to affect the user behaviour, or your results won’t be any use
Find out more
- Thinking aloud: the number one usability tool: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/thinking-aloud-tests.html
- Recruiting test participants for usability studies: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030120.html