Introduction to Product Usability Testing

August 25th, 2009
Published on
August 25th, 2009

Countless hours and immeasurable thought have gone into making a product do what it’s intended purpose is.

Usability is one of those crucial elements of a product that we tend to take for granted. When you pick up an object and use it, you often don’t think about the countless hours and immeasurable thought that has gone into making that item do what it’s intended purpose is.

Oftentimes it is easy to think of Usability in web terms. But, before there was web Usability testing, there was Product Usability testing. Today, there are still many firms handling product usability on a contract basis. Andrew interviewed Dr Morgan of User Insight earlier in the year and he gave some great information on Usability testing in general.

So, just for fun, lets get back to basics for a wee bit and understand the benefits of Usability Testing and what it’s purpose really is.

Usability Testing continues to be one of the most important factors of new product design. After the creation of a product, it is very important to verify that when the product goes through human interaction, that it is achieving their objective or goal.

It is often very important to test the usability of a product among people of different ages, genders and demographics. True, you want to create a product true to the original design and have it be as it was intended, but that would be a moot point if, in fact, the product could not be used as intended due to a design flaw. This is the main goal and purpose behind usability testing.

Also, usability testing allows designers to improve upon their design. If someone is interacting with a product in a way that is unanticipated, but could contribute to the improvement of the product, putting that through usability testing is a great way to discover these little changes or improvements. It’s also a great way to see what does not work and eliminate potential problems.

There are several ways that you can conduct usability testing. The main two are privately observed tests, and focus groups. Privately observed usability tests often involve the tester being either left alone with the product and observed or recorded, or having someone observe their interaction. In either case, the users actions and motions are logged and they are often encouraged to speak what they are thinking so that the observer can capture their total reaction to the product.

Focus groups usually involve a group of people discussing the product or responding to questions asked after they have interacted with the product. Both methods of usability testing are successful for different reasons, and it is important to select the right one for the product in question.

In many cases, it is good for a product to go through more than one round of testing and revision before it is released to make sure that it is both usable, and that the concepts and ideas of the designer have been properly recognized and translated.

So if you have a brilliant idea, be sure to really test it before you finish it up. The same can be said for websites too. It’s important to recognize that proper Usability testing is the best way to guarantee the intent of the finished product.

Here is a little food for thought. Think about the fact that someone else had to think about these things first:

  • Nail Clippers
  • Door Knobs
  • Springs
  • Guitar Tuners
  • Car Door Locks
  • Paper Shredders
  • Cutting Boards

Recommended Reading: An Introduction To Usability

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