Posted by: bbannan | April 11, 2012

Innovation and Mash Up User Testing – Tangier

Not every project is the same, not everyone perceives an event the same.  Kuniavsky expands upon this level of thinking in chapter 16 where he summarizes all of the different methods of usability testing found throughout the book but then gives us the freedom to go out and ‘try what works’.  Every situation is different, thus following a prescribed process everytime will not produce the desired outcome.  We must not be hesitant to step outside the usability testing box in order to get the best possible results and feedback.  Innovation doesn’t come from doing the same thing, the same way over and over again, it comes  from the willingness to fly by the seat of your pants sometimes until you reach the end goal with a product or website that is used and liked by your audience.

Kuniavsky delves deeper into how you can make these tests fit your research.  If you want to do a focus group but the participants aren’t likely to be in the same physical room?  Then you should consider virtual focus groups using a conference call line or online virtual meeting room.  The concept of nominal and friction groups is also introduced in this chapter.  Both methods are a mashup of focus groups with a different take on how it’s conducted.  In the case of nominal groups, participants are required to provide a written comment on the product or service being evaluated before they join the focus group.  Providing their written comments reduces the chance of a dominate member swaying everyone’s opinions and ‘group think’ taking over (Kuniavsky, 2003).  Friction groups ensure that there will be a healthy amount of discussion and all possible options would most likely be touched on by choosing participants based on a single differentiating factor.

Eye tracking and parallel research are also two alternative methods for user testing.  Eye tracking literally tracks the movements of the center of the eye to see where on a website the user gaze stays the longest.  It can reveal the best placement for advertisements, text and anything else you wish to know in order to place important information where it will be seen by the most amount of people.  Parallel research is an interesting method, it basically has two separate research teams working with the same data set but using different methods for usability testing and analysis.  This method cuts down on bias throughout each phase of the research process by running research in two different ways.  It can add confidence to your results if the concurrent research projects provide similar outcomes.

Participatory design is something that I wish we could implement at my job.  Basically, you involve your end users in the design process at the beginning to ensure that their perspectives are included.  This can cut down on situations where a program is created in a vacuum but is not usable by the end users it was intended for.  Kuniavsky sees this as a great way to create solutions for end users but there is a risk that a board with limited vision may miss key factors to increase the usability and likeability of a product.  Often times at my job, we make an update to the LMS that we think from a program management standpoint is need but when the change reaches our end users, the point is sometimes missed.   I hope to implement this type of testing when my company eventually updates the user interface of our LMS.  Getting user input at the beginning will help us to create an interface that makes sense for our entire population.

Usability tests can also be combined to fit your needs.  Kuniavsky looks at combinations of focus groups with diaries, surveys and also usability tests combining with observational interviews, log files and task analysis.  These combinations can be used depending on your situation and also where you are in the design process.  Krueger and Casey (2009) researched the combination of the focus group with another testing method.  They found that oftentimes the focus group is the impetus for a survey since it provides some basic information for questions to expand their current realm of knowledge.  In my group, we are looking at doing a focus group for the second round of testing.  Since we are looking to have brand new participants, adding a survey to this portion of testing would be a good idea to gather demographic and other related information.  Although we are getting their feedback in the focus group, the survey will help us understand their background and possibly provide a view into how they reason.



Krueger, R .& Casey, M. (2009).  Focus Groups:  A Practical Guide for Applied Research.  Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

Kuniavsky, M. (2003). Observing the user experience: a practitioner’s guide to user research. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.




  1. Tangier – thanks for your post! I’m glad that Kuniavsky went over so many ways to combine research gathering methods in this chapter. I like to think of it almost like the ultimate “Chinese menu” approach – where you can choose the technique(s) that might work for the project goals and constraints you have at the time. I also agree with you that it would be great to have user feedback earlier in the development process. Your job sounds similar to mine, in which as a result of the contract world we work in it can be very difficult to involve users early in the process. There may be political issues, contract limitations, or some other barrier to getting to the end user. As with some of his other chapters, I think Kuniavsky went over some methods that I consider a bit out of reach for most projects. For example, being able to implement eye tracking during the development of a complex elearning experience would be really great, but unless you’re working for an organization that has the funds or technology it’s not likely to happen. It’s nice to know about these techniques, though, so that we can draw out any key messages and/or be able to take the intent of that technique and maybe apply it in a different (less costly) way.

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