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Portfolio: — usability study "searches for your recipes in your own cookbooks". It's a great way to find recipes you forgot or never even knew you had in your own kitchen.

As part of the site redesign, the management team asked us to do a usability study on an interactive prototype. It was a great way to identify the strengths and weaknesses, well before the site went live.

They said "The usability study was very useful, in particular being able to 'sit-in' on the sessions and experience how members and non-members interfaced with the site."

A search result in the new design. Note the use of filters on the right side. It's labeled "Only show..." instead of "Filters" to incorporate user terminology. This is an example of faceted search, which helps people navigate through all the data without having to guess at advanced search queries.

The usability study process

As always, we modified the process to fit the client's schedule and requirements:

  • Remote study. Because participants, the product team and the facilitator were all in different cities and states, we decided on a remote usability study. Screen-sharing software let everyone observe, take notes and communicate during the sessions from their own homes or offices.
  • Personas. The management team knew their users well, so they prepared a set of personas. Together, we reviewed and updated these descriptions of typical user types. Having them helped in recruiting, running the study and interpreting the results.
  • Review prototype pages. With a better understanding of the users, the next step was reviewing the prototype with the designer. This is always a good step before showing pages to users because it lets us find and fix problems that are likely to come up in each session.
  • Recruiting. We discussed how many participants would make a good study and how many of each persona to invite. The client recruited existing or likely users to match those requirements.
  • Tasks & interview questions. Based on the redesign's business requirements, I developed a set of tasks and interview questions for the study.
  • As always when testing a prototype, not all features worked yet, so the tasks were clearly defined. (In contrast, testing a live site allows participants to do anything they want.)
  • Interview questions ensure that we got feedback on all aspects of the study. They included discussion and rating questions.
  • Usability report. A report of my observations along with analysis and recommendations was the final task in the study. Usability reports are concise and organized by priority and category to make reading them easier.


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