Usability Services


The following are the primary usability services offered by our team.

Card Sorting

Card sorting is a quick and inexpensive way to understand the user’s view of a Web site’s structure (navigation and labeling). This method can be repeated with different user groups to better understand common themes in the information architecture.

Card sorting can be open or closed. In open sorting, particpants take a set of items, group them based on similarity, and then create headings for the piles. A closed card sort has participants group information into predefined categories. The usability team works with the client to determine the best approach for the project.

When to Use

Card sorting is best done when developing or reviewing the navigational and/or labeling structure.

Limitations  

  • Card sorting is content-centric, so it focuses more on content instead of tasks
  • Results can vary widely depending on the users involved in the card sort
  • Analysis of the data can be time consuming

Client Responsabilities

  • Provide the usability team with a pool of potential participants
  • Work with the usability team to determine the list of items to be sorted

     

Reverse Card Sorting (also called information architecture validation)

Reverse card sorting is also a quick and inexpensive way to review and evaluate a proposed navigation and labeling structure. This method can be repeated with different user groups to better understand common themes and potential issues in the information architecture. With this method, participants complete tasks using a proposed navigation and label structure.  

When to Use

Reverse card sorting is optimal when you have a proposed navigational structure of a Web site but prior to the start of design and development.

Limitations    

  • Results can vary widely depending on the users involved in the card sort
  • Relies only on navigational and labeling structure, not a site design

Client Responsabilities

  • Provide the usability team with a pool of potential participants
  • Collaborate with usability team to create tasks



Expert/Design Reviews

The expert/design review involves usability experts assessing a prototype of a Web site or application and identifying issues based on established usability principles. Usability experts then provide recommendations for improvements. An expert/design review helps create a ‘baseline’ measure of usability for the product. These reviews include a high-level accessibility assessment as well.

When to Use

Although expert/design reviews can be used at any time during the project, they are best suited to earlier phases of design when the product conception and information architecture are evolving. Expert/design reviews are quicker, cheaper, and more efficient than usability testing.

Limitations    

  • Relies on user experience experts, not real users
  • Focuses on design and function, not tasks

Client Responsabilities

  • Provide the usability team with a design of the proposed Website, optimally in a .jpg or .png format

     

Surveys

Surveys are a way to obtain information about user preferences, understand behavioral patterns, gain user reflections, and collect user data (demographics). It can also serve to answer specific questions about Web sites, software applications, or workflows/processes.

When to Use

This method is useful at any time, although it is often best used when there are specific and concrete questions requiring answers. Surveys are an inexpensive way to reach many users. When analyzed thoroughly, surveys can provide useful data for clients.

Limitations    

  • Unintended bias and poor word choice can create unreliable surveys if not created by experts
  • Qualitative data is harder to extract from surveys and is time consuming to properly analyze
  • Development and analysis can be time consuming

Client Responsabilities

  • Provide the usability team with a pool of potential participants
  • Collaborate with usability team to create questions

     

Usability Testing (moderated)

Usability testing is a way to evaluate a product’s effectiveness with representative users and to discover issues. Test sessions include a facilitator asking questions as the participant completes a series of pre-defined tasks. Having members of the project team observe the session is a key component of this methodology. Usability testing can be done either in person or online using software to connect users, facilitators, and observers.

When to Use

This method can be used at various times during the project lifestyle, depending on what is being tested. Wireframe or paper prototype testing evaluation happens early in the development cycle, while full product testing happens later.

Limitations   

  • Time intensive to plan and execute (recruiting participants, creating tasks, and analyzing results)
  • Generally, requires a lead time of about four weeks
  • Not as effective when basic ideas and concepts are still evolving
  • Due to privacy concerns, sessions are not recorded

Client Responsabilities

  • Provide the usability team with a pool of potential participants
  • Collaborate with usability team to create tasks
  • Provide compensation for participants
  • Provide a publicly accessible URL  
  • Project team members observe the usability test

     

Usability Testing (un-moderated)

Online, un-moderated usability testing is an efficient way to evaluate a product’s effectiveness with users, particularly if the target audience is outside of MIT. These un moderated test sessions take place online using specialized software that records video and audio of the session for review later. Participants, drawn from a large panel, complete a series of pre-defined tasks and answer specific questions about the product.

When to Use

The method can be used at various items during the project lifecycle.

Limitations    

  • Not as effective when basic ideas and concepts are still evolving
  • Participants drawn from a general panel of users and are not usually affiliated with MIT
  • Sessions are limited to 20-30 minutes
  • Tests are un moderated (no facilitator)

Client Responsabilities

  • Collaborate with usability team to create tasks
  • Provide a publicly accessible URL  

 

User Interviews

One on one interviews with users are a solid method for understanding workflows, viewpoints, and opinions of users of Web sites and software applications. Often the workflow or process is discussed during the interview, followed by open-ended questions. A usability expert should conduct the interviews to minimize bias and leading questions.

When to Use

Although this method can be used at any time during development, this method is most useful in the early phases to understand the user needs and ‘pain points.’ This method is also helpful in discovering issues in an existing workflow.

Limitations    

  • Project team members are not present for interviews
  • Time consuming to analyze responses and results
  • Must include a variety of users

Client Responsabilities

  • Provide the usability team with a pool of potential participants
  • Provide compensation for participants

 

Focus Groups

Focus groups are structured interviews and discussions with small groups of users that can reveal a target audience’s desires, experience, and priorities about a product. Focus groups can gather insights sparked by the group interaction and opinions, attitudes, and preferences from participants. 

This method requires a facilitator leading participants through a set of questions and probing on specific points. An effective facilitator is required to obtain the most useful information from participants. 

To remain objective, the facilitator must not be part of the department or project team discussed in the focus group.

When to Use

Focus groups are often used in the early stages of product planning and requirements gathering to obtain high-level feedback about products, concepts, prototypes, strategies, and work environments.

Limitations    

  • Unlike in a one on one interview, participants may not feel they can freely express their views in a group setting
  • Information reported out from focus groups is primarily high level and not suitable to granular data about products
  • A skilled facilitator must know how to deal with group dynamics and individual differences among participants

Client Responsabilities

  • Provide the usability team with a pool of potential participants
  • Provide compensation for the session (often food for the focus group session)

 

All inquiries are welcome at usability [at] mit.edu.