All About Website Usability Blog – Holly Phillips

In-person vs phone/webex vs online usability studies
October 8, 2009, 4:51 am
Filed under: usability testing

There are several types of usability testing, all with the same goal of better understanding how well sites will work for typical customers. 

  • Traditional (in-person) usability testing consists of recruiting customers to come to a centralized usability lab, where they sit in a room with a pc and possibly a moderator and are observed as they interact with the site.  They are typically videotaped, and usually viewed real-time by observers either in the room or behind a one-way mirror.
  • Phone or WebEx usability testing is similar to traditional testing, but the customer stays in his own location and interacts with the site from his own pc.  The moderator is on the phone and viewing the customer’s mouse movements over WebEx or a similar program.  Other listeners may also be monitoring over the phone and WebEx.
  • Online usability testing is a relatively new form of testing that allows a customer to interact with the site from his own pc, and uses special software to capture his mouse movements.  He can also be asked virtually any type of research question.  Typically, the questions or instructions appear in a single frame, while the site of interest appears in a separate frame.  The customer is asked to complete a task, and then to answer some questions about the experience.  This can be monitored or not, depending on the needs of the research.

Clearly there are pros and cons to each type of usability testing.  The goal of the testing will determine which type will be most appropriate.  A rough comparison of the costs and benefits of the three types of testing is shown here:

  Traditional Phone/WebEx Online
  Financial High Medium Low
  Time & resources High Medium Low
  Geographic diversity of respondents Low High High
  Replicates customers’ actual environment No Yes Yes
  Ability to test more users Low High High
  Ability to ask follow-up questions High High Medium
  Analysis and turn-around time Medium Medium High

Clearly understanding the goals of your particular project will help you choose the right (most appropriate and effective) type of testing.


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