User research and usability testing aims to design a “thing” by getting input from the people using, or who might use, the “thing.” While this seems to be the general theory, there are many different approaches and methods practitioners can use to develop an understanding of how people use a thing.
Here is some introductory information. This article will essentially be an introduction and list some articles where you do some reading to learn more. In future articles, I hope to expand more on some of these methods.
What is Usability? How does it help us?
The term “Usability” has been around for a long time. I like to think that usability became more important as normal people, non-tech savvy people, started using computers in the workplace. At an IA Meetup, one data architect asked, “What’s the point of user experience/usability? Why do product need to be more usable?” I responded that not everyone can run a program from a command line prompt; people are not all gifted with technical skills and
Anyways, that’s the general theory behind making something easier to use. You might like these resources:
For a little history, try The History Of Usability: From Simplicity To Complexity
The discipline of usability is also rooted in the discipline called Human Factors, which started as military personnel asked themselves the very morbid question: “What design do we need to kill more enemies through better matching soldier and weapon? And thus avoid getting killed ourselves.” ~ Mads Soegaard
There are some great resources out there for learning more about user research.
Leveraging User Experience Research in Driving Business Results: A Quick Guide gives a nice introduction to user research and highlights how user research is different than marketing research:
It is quite common for people outside the field of user experience to confuse user research with traditional market research. In fact, despite their being some overlap between the two, user research is very different from market research in some critical ways. User research focuses on understanding users’ interactions with a product, while market research focuses on customers’ attitudes toward and perceptions of a brand, a product, a message, or a pricing model. ~ Frank Guo
Undercover User Experience Design can give you more insights into putting user research ideas into practice.
For those interested, Dealing with Difficult People, Teams, and Organizations: A UX Research Maturity Model details some of the difficulties with user experience research.
There are some great resources out there for learning more about user testing.
Usability.gov has some great resources on preparing for user testing. The section goes through planning, running the test, and reporting after the test. In terms of a basic approach, this is a great place to start.
Recently, Jakob Nielsen posted an article How Many Users to Test in a Usability Study? This is a follow up to his classic article Why You Only Need to Test with Five Users. As someone who doesn’t have the bandwidth, money, or user base to do this much testing, Nielsen’s blog provides extremely valuable insights.
Hopefully this article has given you somewhere to start with learning more about user research and usability.