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Chapter 9. Usability Studies

“People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.”

Will Rogers

Throughout this book I’ve made a case for the value of involving users in your design. In the previous chapter, we talked about different ways you can collect feedback and receive a broad understanding of the problem space. But what if you’ve already developed an application? How do you know if it’s effectively meeting your users’ needs?

Of course, you could always just ask them. We’ve talked a lot about having discussions with users and asking them questions; that process is still important. Users can tell us a lot about what’s working and what’s not. However, the most powerful way to gain insight into what a user needs is by directly observing them.

There are times when users’ perspectives are skewed and subjective. Try asking users how long it takes for your application to load and you may get a variety of answers. For some users, your application’s load time is just fine; for others it’s painfully slow and unusable. Usability studies could help you determine just how long your application takes to load and, more importantly, how much of an impact it presents for your users. Usability testing quantifies your observations.

In fact, usability studies are one of the key features of user-centered design. If you’re embarking on a website redesign, for instance, how do you know if your new design is better than the original? How do you know if you’ve actually achieved your ...

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