Usability Testing is a technique for ensuring that the intended users of a system can carry out the intended tasks efficiently, effectively and satisfactorily.

In a usability test, representative users try to do typical tasks with the product, while observers, including the development staff, watch, listen, and take notes. The product can be a Web site, Web application, or any other product. It does not have to be a finished product. You should be testing prototypes from early paper-based stages through fully functional later stages.

Usability can be defined as the degree to which a given piece of software assists the to accomplish a task, as opposed to becoming an additional impediment to such accomplishment. The broad goal of usable systems is often assessed using several criteria:

· Ease of learning

· Retention of learning over time

· Speed of task completion

· Error rate

· Subjective user satisfaction

Usability is the combination of fitness for purpose, ease of use, and ease of learning that makes a product effective. Usability testing focuses on determining if the product is easy to learn, satisfying to use and contains the functionality that the users desire. The movement towards usability testing stimulated the evolution of Usability Labs. Many forms of usability testing have been tried from discount usability engineering, field tests to competitive usability testing. Apart from research and development of various testing methods there have been development in the field of automated tools for evaluation of interface designs against usability guidelines. Some of the tools are DRUM, WebCAT, WebSAT etc.

Goals of Usability Testing:

Usability testing is a black-box testing technique. The aim is to observe people using the product to discover errors and areas of improvement. Usability testing generally involves measuring how well test subjects respond in four areas: efficiency, accuracy, recall, and emotional response. The results of the first test can be treated as a baseline or control measurement; all subsequent tests can then be compared to the baseline to indicate improvement.

  • Performance — How much time, and how many steps, are required for people to complete basic tasks? (For example, find something to buy, create a new account, and order the item.)
  • Accuracy — How many mistakes did people make? (And were they fatal or recoverable with the right information?)
  • Recall — How much does the person remember afterwards or after periods of non-use?
  • Emotional response — How does the person feel about the tasks completed?

Hallway testing

Hallway testing or hallway usability testing is a specific methodology of software usability testing. Rather than using an in-house, trained group of testers, just five to six random people, indicative of a cross-section of end users, are brought in to test the software the name of the technique refers to the fact that the testers should be random people who pass by in the hallway. The theory, as adopted from Jakob Nielsen’s research, is that 95% of usability problems can be discovered using this technique.

Remote testing

Remote usability testing is also known as unmoderated or asynchronous usability testing which involves the use of a specially modified on line survey, allowing the quantification of user testing studies by providing the ability to generate large sample sizes. Additionally, this style of user testing also provides an opportunity to segment feedback by demographic, attitudinal and behavioral type. The tests are carried out in the user’s own environment helping further simulate real-life scenario testing. This approach also provides a vehicle to easily solicit feedback from users in remote areas.