Posted by: bbannan | January 31, 2012

Usability Test-evaluating your product or prototype -Jennifer S.

Are you a developer looking for a quick evaluation on your product or prototype?  Try conducting a usability test with your friends and family.  According to, a usability test is defined as, “a technique used to evaluate a product by testing it with representative users.”  For a quick review of your products functionality your friends and family can give you immediate feedback.

Chapter 10 of Observing the User Experience will cover usability testing in detail.  This post is meant as only an introduction to Usability Testing and how using your friends and family as your target audience will save time and give you a quick overview of your product or prototype successes or shortcomings.

The book, Observing the User Experience, (p. 10) refers to four steps for conducting a usability test:

  1. Define the audience and their goals
  2. Create tasks that address those goals
  3. Get the right people
  4. Watch them try to perform the tasks.

Reviewing your intended product or prototype audience will clue you in to who exactly will be using your product.  When thinking about your goals I found it similar to an elevator pitch where you have the span of the elevator ride to get your main points (goals) across.  Next, take a note of the main tasks your product should have.  Getting the right people is fairly simple when piloting a friends and family usability test.  Look for friends and family that fit the characteristics of your target audience.  The final step is to present the participants with your product or prototype, provide simple instructions and sit back and watch what happens!

After completing your usability test, determine what you learned and see if there were any common likes/dislikes with your product or prototype during the test.  Identifying any trouble areas will help you to determine the next steps in the development process and will allow you to see what changes will benefit your product or prototype.

Here are few references with a short explanation on usability testing:

Getting Started with Usability Testing in 7 Simple Steps:

(This webpage reviews usability testing and has a short presentation titled “The Who, What, Why, When and How of Usability.”)

Fast and Simple Usability Testing:

(This blog gives a simple tutorial on when to test, who to test, the script, how to run the test and what to look for when conducting a friends and family usability test.)

Saving time with usability testing:

(This blog shows that usability testing is not just for huge companies with budgets.  Also, it explains the more testing you do early will save time by not having huge changes later on.)

What is usability:

(This blog discusses usability and why it is so important. There are links at the bottom to related posts on usability that may be helpful to review.)

(This webpage gives an introduction to usability testing.)

University of Colorado System:

(This webpage follows the book, Observing the User Experience, guidelines to usability testing as well as giving great tips for preparing and presenting a usability test.)



  1. I liked how clear and concise the author laid out observing the user experience. Thanks for the great resources. I look forward to seeing how my group might be able to use some of these techniques in our own formative evaluation process.

  2. Jennifer,
    What I find fascinating is a common theme in yor post and some of your shared resources. The theme: choose your testers carefully. It seems important to make sure your testers fit as closely to your end user group/personas so the results can positively impact the design process. In light of the semester ahead of us, refining our ideal test group seems critical to the overall design process. Thanks for sharing the great resources.

  3. I agree that usability testing should be used on representative users, but I do like the idea of using friends and family members as well. Depending on the product such as a technological based learning environment, it might give a fresh perspective if the product is easy to navigate and if the content is engaging and easy to understand. Representative users in a way are SMEs and a potential learning environment should have some sort of ease for novices to jump in and learn. Again…it might depend on the topic of the learning environment.

  4. As I was reading through your posting I started thinking about the work we did on our prototype last fall and the relationship to what we just read. Our project has a very distinct audience as a primary user, but we also have a secondary set of users that is very broad and when we were creating our personas, we spent a lot of time looking for ways to incorporate both sets of users. In the end, we used ‘family and friends’ to inform our personas for this secondary user group. So this method of design based research and the usability testing parameter isn’t really new. We’ve actually been doing some informal usability research already on this project. Now we’re giving the process a formal name and from this point going forward, we’re also going to get more formal in our approach. (Kudos on providing some nice links, too!)

  5. I can see that several of us seem to focusing in on the useability testing and the idea of using friends and family. I do this all the time in my work (I am not a designer per se, but I believe that all teachers are instructional designers to differing degrees); and, I would be willing to bet that most of us in the (EDIT 752) class do the same. I just never thought of it as a formalized part of the design process. It seems so logical to get the opinions of people whose opinions you value and who are familiar with your scenario. These people usually always come up with something which I had failed to consider or to offer a different perspective.

    Secondly, I can see that my Team in this course has been doing this all along. Again, I bet all five teams have been doing so. “Let’s get some feedback from the users before we ____” has been said many times. Ok, we think our current set-up is great; but, before we spend a lot of time and energy following one path, we realize that it is prudent to get some feedback. This has surely saved us a lot of effort going in the wrong direction. And, it has had its surprises, too. Those users sure can disagree with you on what is more important that what and also come up with some things you never considered, can’t they?

  6. Jennifer,

    I find your points and links provided interesting, enlightening, and helpful; the four steps for conducting a usability test is neatly outlined and could be used as a resource when performing the prototype.
    I like how you’ve pointed out friends and family as target audience, especially since the information gathered from the audience does impact the design process. I regularly first check if I can use my friends and family as target audience since they are easier to locate and they would most likely want to offer their feedback and assistance to help out, their assistance is appreciated and their information offered most likely would be enlightening. Though target audiences are not limited to family and friends but it’s always nice and helpful to include them.

    “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.”
    – George Santayana

    “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out”
    -Walter Winchell

  7. Great posting, Jennifer. Very well written and nice choice of resources. You bring up interesting points that is mapped out very clearly while giving us a lot of great resources. The topic is important, critical, and straight forward. However, you seemed to have brought interesting elements to think about. Family and friends are great resources and give wonderful feedback, don’t know about “immediate feedback” but they try their best. I find my self using them all the time, they are my “Life Line”.

    Thank you for all the great links [ very helpful ]

  8. Thank you for your posting, very interesting. I like the resources you have provided and plan to use them.
    As you have mentioned in your article, usability tests are very useful in defining the needs of your users.
    “Reviewing your intended product or prototype audience will clue you in to who exactly will be using your product”. I see it as a way to keep the finger on the pulse of the users. Most users don’t want to spend too much time and effort in figuring out how to use a device or a website. As soon as it becomes too laborious, users are discouraged and will move on to something else.

  9. thank you for the posting and great resources. I agree that it’s a crutial step to choose the testers who are availabe and can fit into our usability test, but I’m not sure if family and friends will always be un-biased or fit as a persona in the iterative development.

    As Kuniavsky states, “Iterative development is based on the idea of continual refinement through trial and error”. (p28) The friends and family group is a better fit to the user tests than random testers in that they are usually available for us to report their opinions for continual refinement during the iterative development process. We can’t gurantee to get a ramdom tester’s opinon every time we refine our product, but their role may be a better fit to the personas for our product.

    I learned from chapter 1-3 the process of iterative development is important to the user tests, however, finding the perfect testers also needs our attention.


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