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Practical Guidance at Every Level (Book Review)

Book coverA review of
Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set…Test!
By Carol M. Barnum

Morgan Kaufman, 2011

I would submit that the single most common activity among the legions of professionals calling themselves usability engineers, user experience designers, interaction  designers, information architects, and human factors engineers  (yes, I can recall the 1970s and ’80s), would be usability testing. As usability professionals, we really can’t quantify our success or claim value added by our contributions to hardware and software development unless we observe and record how our design is utilized by relevant user populations. The ubiquity of articles and books relating to usability testing suggests that: (1) a real lot of usability testing occurs; (2) testers are looking for advice and support; and (3) usability testing comprises a broad spectrum of sophistication and techniques, part art and part science.

Before you tire of reading this rambling philosophy and put this magazine aside, allow me to provide my recommendation right up front. Beg, borrow, buy, or steal a copy of Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set…Test!  This is as good a book on usability testing as you are going to find, and it will provide practical guidance regardless of your experience level.

I originally started reading this book by candlelight. Yes, Hurricane Irene in late 2011 knocked out power to my home for eight days, and with no television or Internet I actually started picking up hard copy books. Perhaps this review is colored by the fact that I felt a bit noble, like Abraham Lincoln.

Ms. Barnum’s book is divided into ten chapters, each providing an insightful detail into such topical areas as planning for usability testing, preparing for the test, conducting the test, analyzing and reporting the findings, and even international usability testing. Ms. Barnum is interested in usability testing as it is now most commonly practiced—small studies with a small number of participants, with primarily qualitative data. She does allow for, and indicate, where the more rigorous, experimental design, statistically significant results route is appropriate, but she realizes the reality that the vast majority of usability researchers are challenged in terms of time and budget. She doesn’t have to defend the emphasis on smaller studies.

This book has that rare ability to identify and discuss essentially all the subjects of interest to the usability researcher, but always at the “just right level.” The reader is never bored by excessive detail, arcane references, or statistics that make her eyes gloss over. Ms. Barnum writes very clearly and very understandably. This book is devoid of jargon and academic arrogances. Equally important, however, the reader is never left with the feeling, “Oh gosh, another motherhood statement about usability. How does that help me?” Ms. Barnum consistently strikes the right balance. If a topic is worth being included in this book, it is worth more than lip service. It’s impossible to list even a majority of topics that Ms. Barnum touches upon within the constraints of this review. An appetite-whetting sampling, however, includes: how to put together equipment that might be needed without going into debt; lab testing or field testing; remote testing; heuristic analysis; personas; understanding user groups such as Boomers and the Silent Generation; and testing protocols. Chapter 8, Analyzing Results, and Chapter 9, Reporting the Findings, are particularly well done and extremely valuable for those researchers who are skilled at conducting the actual test, but diminish the impact of their work by failing to convince stakeholders of the import of their findings. Although not necessarily usability testing per se, practical advice on preparing and delivering visual and oral presentation is most welcome.

To illustrate key concepts, the book includes a very complete case study of a Holiday Inn China website weaving its way throughout the chapters. Where applicable, chapters conclude with a useful and meaningful illustration of how the concepts in the chapter are put into practice. As with the book in general, the case study is not contrived and strikes just the right balance on level of detail. The case study is complete enough to learn from without overwhelming the reader by unnecessary detail. An added bonus is the inclusion of several well-composed forms and useful resources that can be found on the companion website. (You don’t have to own the book to access the companion resources and forms. A sample chapter is also located on the website.)

An issue that doesn’t generally receive mention in most book reviews, but I feel is relevant here, is the “physical appeal” of the book. Ms. Barnum certainly practices what she preaches; the book itself is exceedingly user friendly, if that term can be applied to a book. The paper is a high quality, semi-gloss stock, and the use of subtle color throughout the book is soothing and allows the reader to quickly distinguish color blocks indicating sidebars, figures, case studies, and so forth. A very readable sans serif font is easy on the eyes, even for ancient readers such as myself, and white space is judiciously used throughout. The physical layout of the book, with its proper use of white space and subsection separation, says that this book is easy-to-read and in some subtle way, masks the fact that the book is actually very information-intensive.

As suggested at the beginning of this review, there are dozens of excellent books covering most facets of usability testing. I own many of them. Some books focus on techniques and methodology, and others focus on quantitative testing and metrics. Some books, such as Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think! are fun, quick reads that serve the purpose of introducing the concepts of usability to a wide population. However, if you only want a single book on usability, a book that will touch upon the primary topical areas in sufficient detail to be useful, Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set…Test! by Carol Barnum is the one to read. You won’t be disappointed.Book cover

Paul Linton 描述他阅读 Carol M. Barnum 所著的“可用性测试要领:准备,设置……测试!” (“Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set…Test!”) 一书时的良好体验,该书为每个经验水平的用户体验专业人员提供实用指导。主题包括设备、实验室,及现场测试、远程测试;启发式分析、人物角色和用户群、测试脚本、分析结果,以及报告结果。

文章全文为英文版Book cover

Paul Linton은 경험 수준이 다양한 모든 UX 전문가들에게 실용적인 안내지침을 제공하는 Carol M. Barnum의 “사용성 테스팅 필수사항: 준비, 설정…테스팅! (Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set …Test!)”을 읽으면서 자신이 느꼈던 긍정적인 경험을 설명한다. 장비, 실험실 대 현장 테스팅, 원격 테스팅, 발견적 분석, 페르소나 및 사용자 그룹, 테스팅 프로토콜, 결과 분석 및 발견사항 보고 등의 주제들이 다루어진다.

The full article is available only in English.Uma análise de Informações essenciais sobre teste de usabilidade: Preparar, apontar …Testar! por Carol M. Barnum
Um guia prático para profissionais de experiência do usuário de todos os níveis de experiência. Desde equipamentos, testes em laboratório comparados a testes em campo, testes remotos; protocolos de teste, análise de resultados e comunicação das descobertas.

O artigo completo está disponível somente em inglês.Book cover

Paul Lintonが、Carol M. Barnumの「Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set …Test!」での好印象を語る。本書は、エクスペリエンスレベルの異なるすべてのUXエキスパートのための実用的な指導書である。テーマには、機器・器材、ラボテスト対フィールドテスト、遠隔テスト、ヒューリスティック分析、ペルソナとユーザーグループ、テストプロトコル、結果の分析、調査結果の報告の仕方が含まれている。

原文は英語だけになりますUna reseña de Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set…Test! (Elementos esenciales en las Pruebas de usuarios: Luz, Cámara… Prueba!) por Carol M. Barnum

Guía práctica para profesionales especializados en UX en cada nivel de experiencia. Desde equipos, tests en laboratorios hasta pruebas de campo, pruebas remotas, protocolos de prueba, análisis de resultados y elaboración de informes de los datos obtenidos.

La versión completa de este artículo está sólo disponible en inglés.

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