Chapter 2. What Is Usability Testing?

The term usability testing is often used rather indiscriminately to refer to any technique used to evaluate a product or system. Many times it is obvious that the speaker is referring to one of the other techniques discussed in Chapter 1. Throughout this book we use the term usability testing to refer to a process that employs people as testing participants who are representative of the target audience to evaluate the degree to which a product meets specific usability criteria. This inclusion of representative users eliminates labeling as usability testing such techniques as expert evaluations, walk-throughs, and the like that do not require representative users as part of the process.

Usability testing is a research tool, with its roots in classical experimental methodology. The range of tests one can conduct is considerable, from true classical experiments with large sample sizes and complex test designs to very informal qualitative studies with only a single participant. Each testing approach has different objectives, as well as different time and resource requirements. The emphasis of this book is on more informal, less complex tests designed for quick turnaround of results in industrial product development environments.

Why Test? Goals of Testing

From the point of view of some companies, usability testing is part of a larger effort to improve the profitability of products. There are many aspects to doing so, which in the end also benefits ...

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