Usability Test Steps 3 and 4: Designing and rehearsing the tasks

The tasks of a usability test determine what is being measured in the experiment. The objective of each task is to provide the participant with some background information for why the task is being performed. It is important that the tasks are created to be similar to real world reasons for why the participant would be performing the task. For example, if we at Numinix wanted to test the usability of our shopping cart and checkout system, the goal of the task would be to add a product to the shopping cart and then proceed to checkout. However, without further background information the participant may not act as they would naturally on the website. Instead we could word the task like this:

“You are the owner of a new ecommerce company looking to improve your customer’s impressions of your product information pages. You’ve heard of a new gallery module from Numinix and have decided to purchase the module. Proceed to the Numinix website, and purchase the Numinix Highslide module using the following payment information…”

Its important to note that in the above example a declaration about the individual was made in the statement “[you] are the owner of a new ecommerce company.” If we included a statement like this in one of our usability tests, we would make sure that the participants we are testing are actually owners of new ecommerce companies. Therefore, it is important to know who the participants are and create meaningful tasks that the participant will have an interest in performing. In this case we may learn more than effectiveness of our shopping cart checkout system by watching interested participants play with the Numinix Highslide demo or add on additional services such as installation.

In contrast, if we had not created this task to match our participants interests, we may find that each participant would simply add the product to their cart and then checkout as quickly as possible without performing any of the actions that someone with interest in the task would have performed.

Once the tasks have been created, it is important to test that the tasks are achievable by rehearsing the test procedure. In the above example we would have one of our own employees make sure that the shopping cart is working by attempting to purchase the Numinix Highslide module. This is common sense as all participants would fail to perform the task if there were not at least one way to complete the task. In addition to being able to complete the task, the experimenters should also determine what is the ideal set of steps to take to perform the task. Again, in the above example there are multiple ways of finding the Numinix Highslide module. The participant could browse through our categories of simply type Numinix Highslide in the search box for a direct link to the product’s page.

Alright, so we’ve now completed all of the preparation for a usability test by setting the test objectives, recruiting participants, designing tasks for these participants, and rehearsing the test procedure. The fun part is next where we will explain how the usability test is conducted and the role of the facilitator during the test procedure.

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