Monday, May 23, 2016

Week 1 of May-August Outreachy

Week 1 of the May-August Outreachy internships start today! I'm very excited to work with Diana, Ciarrai and Renata on usability testing in GNOME.

The Outreachy internship requires that interns maintain a blog, writing at least every other week. This shouldn't be a problem for the usability project. For the first few weeks, I'll essentially give a research topic for Diana, Ciarrai and Renata to look into and write about on their blogs. I've structured the topics so that we'll build up to building our usability tests.

I'll also make a copy of my emails as blog posts on my Open Source Software & Usability blog, so we can use the comments as a sort of discussion forum. If you follow my blog, feel free to participate and comment! Expect a new post every Sunday or Monday.

For week 1, we're going to start with two topics:

1. What is usability?

Some questions that might help you think about this week's topic: What does "usability" mean to you? Can you find a definition of "usability"? Some researchers in this area make a distinction between "big U" Usability and "small u" usability - why is that, and how are they different? How does "usability" differ from "User Experience" (UX)? What are we trying to get out of "usability"?

(You don't have to answer all of those questions in your post, but it may help to pick one or two and write about those.)

I've included a few links to references that you might consider in discussing this topic. There are lots of places with information about usability, so feel free to find other resources if you prefer.


As you learn about usability, also think about what is "good" usability to you, and what is "poor" usability. Is usability something that's universal? In your experience, which open source software programs have good usability? Which have poor usability?

These are great questions to start off. I find it's a good idea to create this "baseline" for first impressions about usability. We will expand on this as we get further along in the internship.

2. How to test usability?

There are many ways to examine the usability of a program, more than the few ideas presented in this week's articles. How do you test the usability of a program? What other ideas do you suggest? Would you use different methods for a small program vs a larger program, or the same?

​I've included a few links to references that you might consider in discussing this topic. What other references can you find?


Feel free to use the comments section here as a kind of discussion forum.
image: Outreachy

3 comments:

  1. Hey Jim,
    I am a bit confused about the difference between formal and informal usability testing. Does the difference have more to do with the state of the technology in question (the development stage) or the level of preparation, monitoring etc involved in the test itself? My research this week seems to indicate the former, but I had previously believed formal usability encompassed all facilitated usability test.

    Also, I wanted to share a link to an article on the think-aloud protocol that I found interesting. www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2012/03/talking-out-loud-is-not-the-same-as-thinking-aloud.php. It's sort of unrelated to the questions for this week, but it came up in one of my searches and I thought it had useful tips for helping test subjects understand what we're looking for with the think-aloud concept.

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  2. "I am a bit confused about the difference between formal and informal usability testing. Does the difference have more to do with the state of the technology in question (the development stage) or the level of preparation, monitoring etc involved in the test itself? My research this week seems to indicate the former, but I had previously believed formal usability encompassed all facilitated usability test."

    The definition sometimes varies depending on the source. The generally accepted definition is a formal usability test has a defined structure, using carefully designed Scenario Tasks facilitated by a test moderator. An informal usability test typically has a looser structure, such as ad-hoc testing (tasks that are not guided by a facilitator) and might use "crowdsourcing" or other methods.

    Of course, it's often the case that primitive mock-ups get used in informal testing, because you're at the beginning of a design phase and you want to quickly understand what designs will work and which ones will not.

    By the time a design has matured, you generally have also put in more time to understand the users and how they will use the system. So it's also common to see formal usability testing used with products that are further developed.

    But there's nothing to say you must do formal usability testing only on "finished" products and informal usability testing only on "prototypes." You can use either formal or informal testing for either stage of design.

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  3. "Also, I wanted to share a link to an article on the think-aloud protocol that I found interesting. Talking Out Loud Is Not the Same as Thinking Aloud. It's sort of unrelated to the questions for this week, but it came up in one of my searches and I thought it had useful tips for helping test subjects understand what we're looking for with the think-aloud concept."

    That's a great article! I especially liked the instructive practice of asking the tester to count the number of windows in their house/apartment. You need to do something that helps the tester understand why "thinking aloud" is important.

    I often ask my testers to think out loud, giving the example that if you're trying to print, and you're looking for a "Print" button, just say "I'm looking for a 'Print' button." I also recommend they move the mouse to where they are looking, as this sometimes helps testers speak aloud about what they are looking for ("I'm looking in this menu for a 'Print' menu…" or "I'm just hovering over the buttons in the toolbar to see if there's a 'Print' option.")

    You do need to be careful in the interviews. We'll talk about this as we get closer to the usability tests. After you finish a task, you might ask the tester a few quick questions to understand their thought process (especially if they were struggling during the task). Acknowledge what the tester says about their ease or difficulty in doing the task, but don't get pulled into details about the design. Sometimes, asking questions about the design can be helpful, but most times you'll get a bunch of noise. Best to find out what they were looking for and what they didn't find, and use that data to inform the next iteration in the design.

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