Context matters in usability
While any kind of user testing is better than none, usability testing out of context is like testing a car on water, it gives some basic information and not a lot more. If performance and use are important at all, then testing should take place in an environment standard to the expected users.
In practice this means testing children’s games at their homes, schools or clubs. Testing e-commerce websites at work, on mobile phones, PDA’s (on the bus, train, plane), internet cafes and in the home. Testing software in call centres, oil rigs, supermarkets, small shops, banks anywhere that they are designed to be used.
Can anyone honestly say that their environment does not affect what they do and how they do it. An extreme example would be fx traders using complex software, telephones and chatting to their colleagues while working within a constant stream of information that changes their activities, focus and effectiveness. Not only does context define how long things are used but it restricts attention span, acceptance of navigation and take-up.
Intelligent business requires a full understanding the effectiveness of new products and services. By testing in context, clients can get realistic data on the performance of systems. Such data can be valuable to making decisions on changes, or having confidence that the benefits you expect will be realised in practice. By testing real users in context potential problems can be eliminated and new previously unconsidered opportunities developed.
Republished from article of August 07, 2006