Usability Engineering and Evaluation: Achieving Efficiency in a User-Centered World

Usability Engineering in a Nutshell

  • Understanding basics of cognitive science and psychology
  • Evaluating usability with the help of testing and analysis
  • Working by standards already set in the industry
  • Conducting studies on possible problems and offering solutions

Usability Evaluation Methods

Usability testing

  • Develop a plan. Specify which section of a product the test will cover, indicate a specific purpose and a series of questions to be answered, prepare the metrics (both qualitative and quantitative) to measure the satisfaction levels and time spent to complete a task.
  • Recruit participants. There are two main conditions your test subjects should meet: They can’t be involved in either the design or development of this product and they should represent your target audience. You can use paid services to find eligible participants or engage people in real life — the popular method called guerilla testing.
  • Choose a moderating technique. Deciding how you’re going to moderate a test directly depends on your initial testing goals. There are many techniques you can try, among which are thinking aloud testing and probing questions during or after a test.
  • Run a pilot test. To make sure that the equipment and your note-taking method suit the job and that you are sure how well participants will understand your scenarios, conduct a pilot test a couple of days before your first test session.

Heuristic evaluation

  • Visibility of system status — A user should always be notified about the changes and be able to review the current network status. Take note of the downloading animation in Google Chrome or an uplifting confirmation message by Buffer after you’ve scheduled a post.
  • Match between system and the real world — All concepts and phrases should be familiar to users, just like the concepts of a “folder” or “wallpaper” have been transitioned into operating systems.
  • User control and freedom — Users should be able to skip unwanted steps or cancel the previous decision — the lack of an editing function on Twitter has been enraging users for years.
  • Consistency and standards — Your product should be conventional and predictable. There’s a reason why most websites have a login button in the top right corner. Don’t trade familiarity for uniqueness.
  • Recognition rather than recall — While recalling information usually involves some cognitive effort and memorization, recognition requires only exposure to a new element. When users sign up for Foursquare, they don’t have to type in their list of personal tastes. They simply choose from the most searched options.
  • Error prevention — No design is error-free, but minimize the error possibility. Automatic correction in Google Search and the validation screen that pops up before sending an email without a topic both allow customers to feel more confident when using a portal.
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use — Both novice and advanced users should have an opportunity to tailor their experience by choosing a more comfortable approach. When using Adobe Photoshop, professionals can operate with hotkeys to work faster while newcomers can choose interface buttons.
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design — The well-known Aesthetic Usability Effect proves that aesthetically pleasing design provides a more intuitive and satisfactory experience. Apple’s website is rightfully considered one of the best examples of a simple yet satisfying web experience.
  • Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors — Indicate the problem in simple language and provide either reassurance or a solution. Airbnb does a great job by both incorporating humor and providing a link to their home and help pages.
  • Help and documentation — Any information should be easily searched and addressed step by step. Get rid of long, boring manuals and address the most relevant questions right away. Evernote, for instance, categorizes questions by type: getting started, tutorials, and troubleshooting.

Card sorting

  • In open card sorting, users are provided with website content and asked to categorize it into whichever groups they find most plausible. They also should name those categories. Use this method when you want to determine how users understand your content and how they label it without your prompts.
  • Closed card sorting, allows you to learn how users can sort content within predefined categories. It helps identify if customers will be able to find the needed feature.

First click testing

  • Similar looking links that distract customers and increase the number of misclicks
  • Important tasks hidden on secondary pages
  • How different user groups react to the same wording and navigation

Usability Engineering: Practical Tips Based on Gathered Data

Remove redundant features

Maximize readability

Prioritize actions, not words

Focus on a practical rather than emotional response

Don’t ignore the help function

Connect with your audience on a deeper level

There’s no UX without usability

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