Saturday, November 17, 2012

Usability tests this week

This week, I conducted a usability test of three open source programs:
  1. Gedit, a text editor
  2. Firefox, a web browser
  3. Nautilus, a file manager
These programs were selected based on your input of open source programs that feature good usability.

I asked for volunteers to participate in a usability test. Since I work on a university campus, it was fairly straightforward to get volunteers for this usability test; I offered free candy and pop to anyone who sat in the test. In all, 10 volunteers stepped up. Unfortunately, a few were no-shows, leaving 7 who helped out (plus my wife who participated in a "dry run" of he usability test the weekend before - so technically there were 8 people). My ideal was about a dozen testers, but I said I would be happy with 5 or 6. So I'm good.

At the start of each usability test, I gave the tester a brief context of the study, and why I am looking at open source usability. I explained that this was a usability test, so it was about the software. If the tester experienced problems, that's okay. Don't feed judged. I'm here to observe. And along the way, I'll be taking notes and looking at your screen.

I also asked the testers to speak aloud what was going through their mind. For example, if they were looking for a Print button, just say "I'm looking for a Print button." And if they were looking for something on the screen, they move the mouse to where they were looking, so I could get an idea what they were searching for.

During the usability test, the subject was presented with a number of scenarios. Each scenario was printed at 16 pt Garamond on a separate sheet of paper, and provided a brief context and an action they were asked to complete. For example: You are about to start working on a new project, and you would like to keep all your files in the same folder. Please create a new folder called My Project in the Documents folder.

I listed the usability scenarios in a previous blog post.

The usability tests went for about 30-40 minutes, depending on the tester. So I was pretty might right-on with my time estimates. I took a few minutes at the end of each program to ask some followup questions, and at the end of the test we did a quick "plus/delta" to wrap up.

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