UX Toolkit – UX Research Methods – Part 1

3 Popular UX Research Methods – Usability Testing, Card Sorting & Heuristic Review

Carol Barnum explains usability testing, card sorting & heuristic review, 3 popular UX research methods in the UX Firm toolkit.

What is usability testing?

We have more than a dozen tools in our toolkit, but if you know any of them you probably know our most popular tool, which is usability testing. If you’re not familiar with usability testing, it’s a one-on-one session with a participant who represents your target user, who engages with your product or interface to do typical tasks with your product and to think out loud, which is to share his or her thoughts as he or she goes through the interface or the product talking about what works, what doesn’t work, what the user likes or doesn’t like, what makes sense, what’s confusing, what’s pleasing. In these recorded sessions great insight is gained about user experience.

There are a lot of different formats for usability testing.

Moderated usability testing

They can be in-person moderated one-on-one sessions, or they can be moderated sessions that are conducted remotely via GoToMeeting or one of the other collaboration software tools like WebEx.

Unmoderated usability testing

They can also be conducted without a moderator using software in which the recording is made as the participant goes through typical tasks. In this instance there is no engagement with a facilitator to ask questions or to respond to things that the user does.

These are the ways in which usability testing is typically conducted. We work with our clients to determine which formats are best for the particular product and wherever it is in the timeline of development, as well as what works for your budget.

What is card sorting?

Another tool in our toolkit is card sorting. This works really well at very early stages of development of your interface because it’s an activity–whether it’s conducted in person or remotely using software—that allows the user to indicate through sorting and placing cards into groups where the user expects to be able to find certain aspects of, let’s say, your website and how they would be organized and grouped together.

There are two types of card sorting.

One is called open card sorting, in which the user–once he or she has grouped all the cards—identifies them by putting a label at the top of each card set to say what the right word would be for each group. The other way is called closed card sorting, in which the labels are provided first and then the cards are sorted to go under those labels. There are advantages and disadvantages to each one. Card sorting provides great early feedback on users’ perceptions of what things should be called and where they should be placed and answers questions about nomenclature and information architecture.

What is heuristic evaluation?

Another popular tool in our UX research toolkit is heuristic evaluation, or more commonly called expert review. Unlike usability testing, which involves users who represent your user population, heuristic evaluation or expert review involves usability experts who stand in the shoes of your user and conduct an audit or a review seeking examples of violations of heuristics or rules of good practice for usability. By identifying these violations of good practice, the report that is typically submitted to the client outlines where the potential issues are for users, provides severity ratings for these, and indicates recommendations that should be taken to improve the interface or the product.

Want to learn more about usability testing?  Check out the questions we get ask most frequently about Usability Testing.