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Preparing a usability report entails three main challenges and the most serious
of these is accessibility. As usability testing and analysis seeks to establish itself
as a science, its reports tend to become mired in technical jargon and complex
explanations. Unfortunately, the reports themselves become unusable, an ironic
twist that’s only funny if youre not the one paying for the report.
With the challenge of accessibility comes the delicate balance between being
comprehensive and being clear. The more detail you include, the more you
need to explain, and the more difficult it is to craft an accessible and under-
standable report. At the same time, you don’t want to generalize too much
because that can encourage your audience to have a skewed view of what actu-
ally happened during the test.
This points to the third major challenge of creating usability reports: distin-
guishing between observations and recommendations. Throughout this chapter,
observations” will serve as the building blocks of the usability report. When
youre conducting a usability test and you identify an issue, this counts as an
observation. The purpose of the report is to give an account of everything you
observed. Attempts to explain why usability participants behaved in a specific
way during the test are interpretations (or explanations). Besides observations
and interpretations, there are recommendations and suggested fixes for prob-
lems observed during the test. Because the lines between these concepts can be
blurry, the challenge is to make the distinctions clear. You want to avoid stake-
holders and other team members mistaking something the user did in the course
of the test with an idea you have to improve the design.
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Like every other deliverable in this book, the usability report is described here
as a series of layers, with the first layer being the essential elements—the parts of
the document that make it what it is. A usability report hinges on the observa-
tions—the issues and problems you noticed during the course of the testthat
make up the bulk of the first layer. The second and third layers add context and
give you the chance to expand on the details of the observations.
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If you need to get a report out quickly because your designers are eager to dig
into the design, you can put a document together with these essential elements.
The first layer focuses on answering three basic questions: What did you do?
What did you see? And what do we do next?
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To address the first of these questions, the first couple of pages of your report
should recap the test objectives, logistics, and methodology. Unless youre a
stickler for details, a handful of bullets for each should do the trick: Remember,
youve already sold the usability test, so the key here is to remind readers what
you did and why you did it.
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The next question to answer is “What happened?” Answering this question
means recounting everything you saw and heard during the usability test, but
since the report is meant to be a step or two up from a mere transcript, the
observations show a bit of analysis. Your observations are a generalization of
patterns you saw emerge during the test. For example, regarding a donation
form on a nonprofit site, you might get the following responses from the four
different users:
Sam: [After filling out the form, Sam scrolled down to
continue. It took him a few seconds to find the submit
button, and he moved the mouse around in circles before
landing
on it.]
Jim: So… I filled out the form, now what? Do I just push
return? [The facilitator asks Jim where he would usually find a
button to submit the form.] It’s usually at the bottom of these
things… Oh, wait, I just scrolled and there it is.
Ella: [After filling out the form, Ella scrolls down and clicks
the submit button.]
Barbara: [Before filling out the form, Barbara scrolls down the
length of the page. The facilitator asks about this behavior.]
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