By: Playing Futures:  Applied Nomadology

Modern Technologies of Usability Testing

Quality Assurance

Usability as an activity directed at improving custom quality of the product greatly effects the success of the product. Every dollar spent on usability returns from 10 to 100 USD of profit or savings. One of the important conditions of this efficiency is regular usability-testing of the product with engaging the users at all the project phases. Modern technologies do not only streamline the procedure of usability-testing but also bring new opportunities, for instance, monitoring of physiological parameters of the respondent or mobile devices testing.

1.What is usability and usability-testing? What do they effect?

Usability is the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.[ISO 9241-11]

Achieving a high level of usability can be made only by implementing a user-oriented approach to design and development, specifically through the following:Active involvement of the users into the process of design and testing of the product;

  • Clear understanding of user’s requirements and tasks;
  • Optimal allocation of functionalities among the users and technologies;
  • Iterative and multidisciplinary approach.

Return of investment analysis in usability shows that every invested dollar returns from 10 to 100 USD of profit or savings, connected with cost reduction.

Positive usability investment can be divided into four main factors:

  • Development: lowering costs and reducing time;
  • Sales: increase in income;
  • Users: improving efficiency, productivity and satisfaction;
  • Reducing implementation costs (by reducing training) and user support.

Usability testing is an experimental method built on interviewing the users by a predefined scenario and directed to identification of how the users utilize a product.

The meaning of usability testing is about observing of complications which the users experience during the work with the products. The goal of the testing is improving the interfaces so that the target audience of the product could interact with the final version of the product in the most efficient way.

The observation of how people interact with the product allows for finding the method of design optimization. However, detached observation can be pretty difficult. It is natural for human beings to help those in need instead of just watching their failures. An effective moderator should be able to keep a respondent focused on their issues instead of helping them solve these problems. Therefore both the moderator and the respondent should be in different premises when talking to each other through different communication devices. These premises are usually divided by a one-way mirror, allowing the moderator and other observers to see how the respondent works.

2.What specialized usability-testing tools are for?

The major technical difficulty of the usability-testing procedure is about a large volume of data which should be fixed in the process of testing for the purposes of further analysis:

  • The speech of a moderator and a respondent;
  • Facial expression of the respondent (filmed on a  video camera);
  • Computer screen with which the respondent is working;
  • Different events, taking places on the computer, connected with the user’s activities:

- Moving of the mouse and clicking on its button.
– The use of the keyboard.
– Transitions between the screens (of a browser or other program).

All of these data streams must be synchronized so that when analyzed, they could be related to one another.

The observers, who take part in the testing along with the moderator, take notes as problems are found. These problems should also be synchronized with other data in such a way that any part of a record could be easily found once commented in the notes of an observer.

Absence of special tools makes further analysis so time consuming that the time required for it exceeds two thirds of the total time, spent on testing – from its planning to delivery report.

2.1. Morae

TechSmith company developed a high-performance solution called Morae. This software package is set for 15 minutes on the computers of a respondent, moderator and observers which is especially convenient in case the testing is held outside the company, for instance, in the office of a customer.

A few things must be told about Morae:

  • It is a completely digital solution which reduces the cost and complexity of the equipment.
  • It is really portable and can be installed on a laptop and therefore taken anywhere.
  • It brings quality improvement hence exclusive Rich Recording Technology
  • It is easy to install and use: the deployment takes 10 to 20 minutes.

In addition it has 3 major components:

  • Recorder
  • Remote Viewer
  • Manager

Morae Recorder is installed on a respondent’s computer as a module to record the voice of the respondent, the image of their face (for example from a web camera), respondent’s computer screen, different events on the computer etc.

Morae Remote Viewer allows for a few observers to watch a testing process and make notes.

Morae Remote Viewer is used on a computer of the moderator and observers as a module which allows to see not only what happens on the respondent’s screen, but also to set the markers – records with comments to appeared issues which help in the analysis in case the bright impressions from the testing start to fade away.

Morae Manager synchronizes testing notes, quickly calculates the frequency and temporal characteristics and easily creates video-reports.

At the end of testing session the recorded data is imported to Morae Manager where it is analyzed and a vivid video-report is prepared for every found issue, or every testee.

2.2. Observer XT

However it isn’t the only problem which can be found. Respondents despite the agreement to be fair and forthright, are often silent about the difficulties faced in the process of testing, not wishing to upset the moderator, or trying to look more successful.

Usually such distortions are quickly found and do not effect on the quality of received results. But in cases when the cost of testing error is too high it is best to use more complex tools, the purpose of which is not so much in testing as in the research of how the user interacts with the product. In this case an optimal solution may be the one offered by Noldus, Observer XT and attendant equipment.

  • Eye tracking & alternatives of the solution are the following:
  • An infrared camera records the eyes movement
  • Mounted on the head, to the monitor, or placed on a table
  • Analysis: eyes movement, heat maps, the zones of interest
  • Expensive but very accurate

View analysis measurements describe the next conditions:

  • Where the user looks
  • How long and how often do they look at a definite object
  • The path between the eyes to certain zones of interest
  • The diameter of the pupil, as an indicator of cognitive load

Except for the data which is fixed by Morae, ObserverXT through integration with special equipment, it allows to register physiological measures: heart rate, pupil size, and in the case of infrared cameras connection, supplied by the Swedish company Tobii, even the eyes movement of the respondent. It creates an opportunity not only for further data objectification – the change of heart rate can be the actual emotions experienced by the respondent, even if they are trying to conceal it, but can also establish the relations between the user experience and their current functional states. For example, it becomes possible to assess the degree of fatigue that occurs when working with the product.

“Laboratory on wheels”, which Observer XT really is, provides the usability-testing of a dashboard, a navigation system and audio equipment. It also has an integrated video-record with speed, turns, CAT and location (GPS).

Equipment produced by Noldus company can be installed both on stationary computers and used on mobile usability labs that can be fit into a small suitcase.

There is an alternative in the form of a chamber built into the glasses.

2.3. Testing technologies of mobile devices.

User interfaces of mobile devices – phones, communicators – are also available for usability testing services. Because of technical limitations of the devices often it is impossible to record an image with the device screen the way it can be done on a desktop computer or a laptop. That’s why when testing mobile devices special cameras are applied.

For the approximation to the actual test conditions it is best to utilize a wireless portable camera with which the user will feel more free.

Featured Image: Creative Commons – Attribution by Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology

Article by Zfort Group

The article is kindly provided by Zfort Group, IT Outsourcing service provider.

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