Usability tests

1. Definition
Usability tests are special methods for qualitative website analysis used for online communications. The emphasis is on the user, and the aim is to review the practicality and user-friendliness of online presentations. Very generally, usability is "the extent to which a product can be used by a user to achieve specific goals in a specific context effectively, efficiently and satisfactorily" (ISO 9241).

2. Applications
Usability tests are mainly used to analyze the content and structure of online presentations on the basis of specific user behavior. For instance, usability tests can be used to investigate whether websites meet the following criteria:

  • Users have no trouble operating the website
  • Users find existing information
  • Services, search and order options are set up in a way that facilitates intuitive use.

A key requirement for good usability is accessability. Websites should be accessible regardless of individual physical, mental or technical requirements and be fully usable. Usability tests can be conducted even before programming. Hard-copy prototypes make it possible to test future structures and website navigation with potential users in terms of wording and preferred search strategies.

3. Conduct
Usability tests can be designed to enable simple problem solution observations in a few users (e.g. seeking and finding information) or may involve complex processes with combinations of methods. Valid, meaningful results can be achieved with a combination of observation, asking questions, the thinking aloud method and tracking mouse movements. Subjects are issued real tasks (e.g. ordering a product, seeking a specific item of information, free surfing), and the individual solution is recorded. More complex test methods additionally employ sound, video and screen records, and eye tracking. Eye tracking records subjects' eye movements and intensity of gaze. Among other things, this shows whether and how specific page areas, icons and content are perceived and help to guide users' actions.

4. Indicators
Usability tests do not generate outcome measures as such, but provide pointers or indicators in terms of:

  • Accessibility
  • Comprehensibility / findability of content
  • Ease of use (navigation / navigation wording)

5. Service providers in Germany
A&B Framework, Berlin
aexea, Stuttgart
C-LAB, Paderborn
eResult, Göttingen
eye square, Berlin
facit digital, München
FORSA BrandControl, Frankfurt/Main
netaspect, Düsseldorf
User Interface Design (UID), Ludwigsburg
YouGovPsychonomics, Köln / Wien

6. Links
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines der W3C. - Your guide for designing usable and useful web sites.

7. Further reading
Nielsen, Jakob (1999): Designing Web Usability. Thousand Oaks, CA (USA).

Nielsen, Jakob/Loranger, Hoa (2006): Prioritizing Web Usability. Thousand Oaks, CA (USA).

Nielsen, Jakob/Pernice, Kara (2009): Eyetracking Web Usability. Thousand Oaks, CA (USA).

8. Case studies

Please send us short texts from your projects on this topic in the same structure as the existing case studies, and more information (pdf or links) on the methods employed in as much detail as possible.

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