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Usability Testing

Usability testing is a formal method of improving websites. Here's the basic process:

  • You start by carefully selecting a small group of people who are representative of the audience for the website.
  • One at a time, in a structured setting, trained observers watch users perform assigned tasks on the website, and noting where they fail.
  • The data gathered from direct observation of users is examined; usability experts figure out why the subjects fail to perform tasks, isolating the problems on each page.
  • The problem areas are explained to the website designers and the site owners, and corrective actions are taken.
  • The "final" step is to start over; testing the supposedly corrected site again with a new group of users.
This form of study is still the method of choice for large corporate sites. The disadvantages of a full-blown usability test is that it tends to be time-consuming (usually a month or more) and expensive (you need the use of a usability testing lab, several professionals and a paid group of volunteers.

A faster, far less expensive alternative is heuristic usability testing (also called rules-based testing); this is the method used here at

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