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Glossary » Usability Methods

squint test

evaluating a graphic layout by squinting your eyes. This tests legibility and whether the overall layout is a strong, clear layout.

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a person who is concerned with the outcome of a user interface design because of some effect it has on them, including users, clients, managers, software developers, designers, marketers, distributors, store-owners, and almost everyone involved with a product. Ideally, every…

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standards inspection

a design review to determine whether a user interface design conforms to standards, whether broad industry standards, corporate standards, or standards specifically designed for a given project (e.g. conformance to a style guide).

Standards may include such issues as screen…

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statistical validity

the degree to which an observed result, such as a difference between 2 measurements, can be relied upon and not attributed to random error in sampling and measurement.

The degree of statistical significance of a result depends upon the number…

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steal and modify

a form of competitive analysis for design purposes. The idea is to find out how other systems have solved user interface design problems and adapt their solutions to your purposes.

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storefront testing

opportunistic testing of an interface in a public location such as a storefront or other location where it’s easy to encounter target users because they are frequently in that location.

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a series of illustrations that represent a process, such as the steps of interacting with a computer or frames from an animation or movie. Storyboards are useful for presentations, such as with focus groups, and for checking that the steps…

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stress testing

or “try-to-destroy-it” testing; testing the limits of a system based on the range of possible human interactions. Stress testing is especially appropriate to systems being used under extreme conditions: in public kiosks, unusual climates, for users who are unusually preoccupied…

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style guide

a reference that establishes the look-and-feel of a user interface by clearly defining the standards and conventions of that user interface. Style guides usually include the principles that guide the design of the interface, graphic layout grids, exact size and…

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surrogate users

people used as a substitute or representative for users, in order to provide information in design meetings, user testing, and so forth.

Typical surrogates would include managers, union reps, coworkers, friends, and designers (especially those who have interacted w/ users).…

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a technique for gathering information from a large number of users. A survey can be conducted through a large number of telephone interviews, a direct-mail questionnaire, or an online questionnaire. Major issues in survey design include:

choosing an appropriate sample

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target audience

the set of users that a system is intended for. Constraining the target audience can be useful to simplify the design problem, but obviously limits sales of an application. Typical parameters of the target audience include: industry, computer experience, income,…

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target configuration

or “target platform”; the technical parameters of the system(s) that a piece of software is being developed for, which impacts how many users will be able to use the software as well as the difficulty with which a user can…

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task analysis

a set of methods for decomposing people’s tasks in order to understand the procedures better and to help provide computer support for those tasks. The basic approach is to define the task and the goal of the task and then…

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technology push

technology development that is driven by ideas or capabilities created by the development organization in the absence of any specific need that customers may have. In technology push situations, innovations are created and then appropriate applications or user populations are…

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test protocol

the set of steps to perform a user test, typically written out as a script and included with test materials as a specification for the entire testing process.

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think aloud protocol

a technique in user testing where users are asked to speak their thoughts as they perform a task.

While the focus in user testing is primarily on how effectively a user performs the required tasks (and not on how users…

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thumbnail sketch

(graphic design) a small, rapidly-drawn sketch, used to explore visual ideas, focusing on rough layout issues. A general design approach is to quickly draw a large number of thumbnails as a way of brainstorming and exploring design variations.

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Thurstone scale

a way of measuring people’s attitudes along a single dimension by asking them to indicate that they agree or disagree with each of a large set of statements (e.g. 100) that are about that attitude. The statements are designed to…

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a way of taking the tasks to be performed and putting them in several tiers . The most important are readily available; the less important tasks are on subsidiary levels. Designers used to put all tasks on the menu bar…

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in various approaches to recording and logging user behavior, time stamps record the time at which the recorded events occurred. Time stamps can appear on videotape recordings, website hit logs, and logs of key presses and mouse clicks.

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a method for prototyping and visualizing processes; a type of storyboard. In contrast to an ordinary storyboard, a timeline can be especially useful for displaying simultaneous processes, such as two people working simultaneously who need to coordinate their work at…

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tradeoff analysis

making decisions when each choice has both advantages and disadvantages. In a simple tradeoff, it may be enough to list each alternative and the pros and cons. For more complicated decisions, list the decision criteria and weight them. Determine how…

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making predictions about the future based on previous trends in order to anticipate the target environment for a design, which may differ from the current environment, e.g. by anticipating industry trends, changes in computer power, competitor actions, market preference changes…

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the use of multiple methods to provide converging evidence toward reaching a conclusion. For instance, if users report during interviews that they find a label confusing, and during user testing the users show difficulty in understanding the same label, then…

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