3 Questions to Avoid in a Usability Test

March 23, 2009

Posted in Design.

Photo by oAknd1 http://www.flickr.com/photos/oaknd1/3260307159/

New to usability testing? Want to get a quick start? Check out my post on how to start a usability testing program over at eduStyle…

What you don’t ask during a usability test is just as important as what you do ask. Tests can take a long time and should be considered carefully – what can you cut from your test script? After watching our first test videos, a few things came up that we could leave out.

“How should this be designed?”

Ask for an opinion and you’ll get one. But you’ll get an opinion from someone who isn’t an expert, who doesn’t know the challenges, and can’t consider the different angles. So their design opinion is inherently superficial – what looks good.

A better way to phrase this question is “how can this be easier to use?”

“Would you use this?”

That’s market research. A usability test is about form and function, not inherent value. If you’ve decided to do the project, asking whether visitors find value is asking them to create an imaginary scenario where they might actually need to use the site and then decide whether they would use it. And people aren’t usually that good at quick thinking. So if they can’t come up with this scenario, they’ll say no. And that’s not useful at this stage.

If you are still unsure whether to pursue the project, go do focus groups or needs analysis research.

“Look at this page for a moment… Where you would go?”

We want to simulate real usage. Avoid asking questions that take people too far away from that use case. If you give people a chance to look over the entire page and review all of their options, you may get a different answer than if they simply hit the page and clicked. In real world usage, users tend to go to the first possible match – ignoring later choices even if they might be better. They certainly don’t look read every option and carefully choose.

Try to approximate a real experience with the site by asking a task-based question before you show the site to the user.

Learning from Experience

The fact that you’re testing at all is a huge victory. So even if you’re asking bad questions, you can still learn a ton. Don’t worry too much at first about refining. Just get started and tweak as you go. Remember: you learn a lot more by testing anybody than you do by testing nobody.