Increasingly, Computer Scientists, Social Scientists, Designers, and Developers have been conducting research in human-computer interaction (HCI). This trend has become so pervasive that Stanford University is now offering a free online course in HCI. One of the main tools of HCI is usability testing. While usability testing comes out of a broader design perspective and can be applied to any product or tool, its application in software and web development is fast becoming a fundamental part of the developmental life-cycle of digital products. In HCI, usability testing involves observing users as they navigate an interface. Even a test with a small number of participants can improve the usability of a piece of software or website. These small scale tests, while not statistically significant, can be used to seek out weak points in interface design and fix bugs. Larger scale tests can be used as parts of controlled experiments by researchers to more broadly study the interactions of people and the machines they depend upon or by software and hardware manufacturers whose products must be tailored to increasingly demanding consumers.
If you would like to better understand your website or software application from the user’s point of view, the Scholarly Commons has a small lab available for conducting usability studies. The lab is equipped with usability testing software and hardware and staff who can assist with its use. These services are available for free to University of Illinois students, faculty, and staff members. In addition, Cites is beginning to offer fee-based usability testing services that draw on the expertise of their user experience staff and include a wider variety of testing methodologies, including card sorting–modeling digital navigation with paper cards–and accessibility evaluation.