Lo-fi usability testing – Part 2: Preparation
This content was originally published more than ten years ago and is archived here for preservation.
More up-to-date content is available on this blog.
We’ve already covered in a previous article what usability is and why you need to test it. In this second instalment of this series on lo-fi usability testing, I’ll be showing you what you need to do to prepare for your usability tests.
Assuming you have a product or website to test, you’re going to need a moderator. This is simply a fancy way of saying “person facilitating and overseeing the test”. The moderator is responsible for organising and running a product usability test, then writing up and handing over the report that outlines the issues uncovered.
Moderator responsibilities #
The moderator is not a glorified note-taker, though; there’s a little more to it. A good moderator should:
- Understand what workflows, features need to be tested
- Understand the user persona(s) to find representative test participants
- Prepare the room beforehand and ensure a relaxed environment for the tester
- Create a real-life scenario for the test user
- Have the good judgement to know when to get involved or when to let the tester make their own mistakes
- Understand the product well enough to be able to resolve the simplest errors
- Know how to answer questions with questions to elicit further insight
- Pay attention to detail – be aware of changes in body language and reactions of tester
- Be able to identify if a tester gets uncomfortable and be able to put them at ease
Creating the scenario #
A scenario is a story that represents typical user activities and focuses on a single feature or group of related features. Scenarios should be:
- Short – Time is precious during usability testing, so you don’t want to spend too much time on reading or explaining scenarios
- Specific – The wording of the scenario should be unambiguous and have a specific objective
- Realistic – The scenario should be typical of the activities that an average user will do with the software
- Familiar – The scenario should explain the task in the user’s language and related to their usual context
- Not too detailed – Explaining exactly how the user should achieve the goal will bias how they attempt to do so, defeating the purpose of the test
An example of a scenario:
“You’ve forgotten your password for this website. Go and request a reminder.”
Jakob Nielsen writes in detail about the maths behind his assertion that you find the majority of usability issues after running only five tests. From direct experience, I can happily say that this really does seem to be the case in real life, providing all five users are representative of a single user persona. If you need to test multiple user personas, for example both novice users and power users, you’re going to need a minimum of five users for each.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you testing with more than five users. In practice, you’ll probably find the law of diminishing returns comes in to play. Given that we came into lo-fi usability testing as a means of keeping the time, effort and cost down, we can safely stick with five.
Preparing the room #
- If you can, run the usability test in the user’s own environment
- Otherwise, find a quiet room where you and the test participant are unlikely to be disturbed
- If you’re using a laptop, provide a separate keyboard and mouse if you can, unless you specifically need to test usability of the software or website with the laptop’s built-in touchpad
- Allocate about forty-five minutes for the session to allow a few minutes’ preamble, but no longer to avoid user fatigue
- Bring a few pens and lots of paper to take down notes
- Sit the user in the ‘driving seat’
- Sit alongside the user where you can see what they’re seeing on the screen, but also be able to see their face and how they use the mouse
- Keep an eye on the time, particularly if you’re running several sessions back-to-back, though avoid having a huge clock in front of the user – it’s not a timed examination
That covers the preparation for a usability test. Next time, ten top tips for running the usability test itself. Thanks for reading.
Get articles when they’re published
My articles get published irregularly (erratically, some might say). Never miss an article again by getting them delivered direct to your inbox as soon as they go live.