Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Usability testing - a little checklist to use

Looking at the UI it wasn’t clear to me where the buttons were. That might sound odd but the graphics of the website were very ‘arty’ and it wasn’t immediately obvious where I was to click.

I remember another website I visited where I added items to the basket but wasn’t sure if they had been added. I then wondered if in fact the ‘add to basket’ button was inactive, maybe I needed to log-in first.

I’m sure we’ve all been on websites where the layout changes and our tour of it is suddenly halted while we work out how we use the site.

These are all examples of usability issues and though we as testers often know almost instinctively that this makes sites and applications ‘buggy’ but we might hesitate to raise them as bugs. The closest we come is probably functional testing with an uncertainty around whether these types of issues go beyond what we should be testing.

This is in part I think because as testers we don’t have a clear idea of how to classify Usability issues and in part because we might be stuck in a ‘requirements validation’ mind-set.

Getting out of just validating requirements is already being talked about a lot in the testing community so we can take that one as read. Having a clearer view of how to classify Usability issues we can talk about.

When I write Test Plans I have the usual system, functional test types but also Accessibility & Usability. I put the two together because many Accessibility considerations are affected by the Usability of the site.

When doing Accessibility testing we’re thinking about people with various levels of visual, physical and cognitive impairment that would benefit from a little ‘reasonable adjustment’ of the way we create software.

Usability is connected to this but extends beyond it, affecting every user of the website or application. Therefore this under-addressed form of testing needs to be factored into our test planning.

My guidance has come from the simple list below, courtesy of the Open University. When you experience a Usability issue in the software you’re testing, but you think it’s stretching the definition of a requirement – just label it as one of the below. Get the bug tracking software set up with a Usability classification to. Oh, and go chat with your company’s User Experience person and talk about this. One more team on our side :)


HCI Design Principles

Visibility in the context of UI design means making it clear what a UI element is used for.
Feedback is related to the concept of visibility. In the context of UI design it means making it clear what action has been achieved through the use of the UI element.
Affordance in the context of UI design means making it clear how a UI element should be used. Everyday examples include a cupboard handle to be pulled and a door plate to be pushed. When the affordance is wrong, a written sign is often needed.
Simplicity in the context of UI design means keeping things as simple as possible
Structure: A UI will be more usable if it is structured in a way that is meaningful and useful to the user.
Consistency in appearance, positioning and behaviour within the UI makes a system easy to learn and remember.
Tolerance refers to the ability of a UI to prevent errors if possible, or to make them easy to recover from, if not.

Source: The Open University, M150 Unit 12, ISBN0749257695

More information:
This book makes interesting reading: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Design-Everyday-Things-Donald-Norman/dp/0262640376
Website Design Considerations for Older People: http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article2911.asp

Tools:
Web Accessibility Toolbar: http://www.visionaustralia.org.au/info.aspx?page=614
Colour Contrast Analyser: http://www.visionaustralia.org.au/info.aspx?page=628
Colour Blind Web Page Filter: http://colorfilter.wickline.org/
Colour Scheme Generator: http://wellstyled.com/tools/colorscheme2/index-en.html

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