Top Three Reasons for Early Lab Based Usability Testing

Tara Loosvelt  

October 01, 2012

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What it is:

Early lab-based usability testing is aimed at measuring a user's ability to complete tasks.

How it works:

A moderator using a script conducts the test in a usability lab. The participant is asked to complete a series of tasks on a prototype or a beta version of the actual website simulating the experience they would have on the final design. Here at Extractable we encourage this practice early in the design phase for the following reasons.

The opportunity to get the right sample of participants is excellent:

Taking the time to recruit a handful of your users based on the top few personas really pays off in the end. Usability research supports that 80% of your major usability issues are found with just five users. Testing a few users that align well with the top use cases ensures the likelihood of usage and repeat usage.

Optimize the most significant areas of the project such as conversion paths or new features:

Pave the cow paths is a popular term in usability. It refers to the paths that are already being formed by behavior to formalize their occurrence rather than ignoring the commonly used path. Knowing what navigational elements users click on to get things done allows you to optimize that behavior for them. You may decide that there is a way to make it easier or use that path as an opportunity to up sell and cross sell. Lab testing allows you to record what users are doing and where they are navigating for an accurate measurement of these cow paths.

Measure qualitative insights as you probe into problematic areas:

The nature of moderating a lab testing session allows you to directly observe both interface and user reactions. This creates the perfect opportunity to ask relevant questions timely and contextually gaining most accurate answers to indicative behaviors. In a quick and early game of completion rates and numbers there is a unique opportunity here for a significant amount of insight as well.

Where lab testing can be expensive, costs can be cut on the prototyping. A paper prototype is often quick and economical solution to this challenge. Mocking up interfaces in a wireframe or sketch and printing it out should allow for completing the same basic tasks as a fully rendered clickable prototype.

Fixing a minor usability problem in an early prototype or wireframe takes a matter of minutes. In a graphic design mock-up it might take an hour or two, and in coding and Quality Assurance it can easily take 10 hours or more.

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