Everyone loves and desires products that are usable. In order for products to get to this stage, a unique type of testing is often involved. In my class, students get to see this process unfold and write about it. Simplified versions of a usability test are easily replicated in a classroom environment. Basically, usability testing involves placing a user in front of a series of tasks that address the use of an item. The item can be almost anything; it can be a written document, a piece of software, or physical device (i.e., phone or computer).
To start, a team of students must have something to test. Most often students select from a few choices. Recently, my students tested a mobile application developed by a major emergency management (EM) entity (e.g., FEMA, the Red Cross, Salvation Army). In the real world, the client would provide the team with goals. In this instance, the team developed their own goals according to previously identified needs. Next, user-centered tasks are created aimed at testing the item (or in this case the app) according to these goals. Every usability test needs participants; students are charged with procuring the test participants. Participants must fit the profile of an ordinary user for the item. A profile created early for the EM apps included tech-savvy individuals who were familiar with the IOS platform. From there specific documentation (i.e., consent forms, task list, intake forms, debriefing forms, scripts, data collection forms) is developed in preparation for the testing. These forms help to establish a testing protocol, which ensures that the testing is uniform across all participants.
Testing day is a big deal in the class, in fact, the day is placed on the calendar early in the semester and the entire class period is devoted to the process. Since participants are not from the class and must be enticed to participate, teams strive to bring in small incentives for the testers. I often bring donuts and refreshments for the test takers to up the enticement quota. Student teams reserve space on campus and setup their equipment and forms in advance of participant arrival. Each student has a role in the testing either as the facilitator, note taker, technician or observer. During the tests, the process and each test is recorded.
At the conclusion of testing, students will have successfully collected research data. This original data is qualitative (e.g., comments made by participants, observations made by the team) and quantitative (results from each task including success rate and time per task). The team then turns this data into a comprehensive usability report and presentation for the client detailing their recommendations for any changes and supporting their recommendations with data.