The primary disadvantages to usability testing relate to time and cost:
- Recruiting users to for usability testing can be extremely frustrating.
- Conducting hour-long usability tests — plus preparation and data analysis — for a large number of users can take significant amount of time.
- Providing incentives for users are an added expense that can strain tight budgets.
Many usability problems are common across websites and can be known ahead of time. As a partial alternative to usability testing, many designers prefer to conduct heuristic evaluations. Such evaluations involve evaluating a website or application against a checklist of best practices (heuristics) in order to find and resolve common usability problems before user testing. A heuristic analysis can be reported in many ways, including as a spreadsheet with particular pages, tasks, or user flows as rows and the heuristics as columns.
Eliminating usability errors prior to usability testing allows the testing to reveal more unique and subtle usability concerns. Heuristic analysis is also helpful for projects that may not have the time or resources for usability testing at all, or for competitive analysis.
Some common heuristics include:
- The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
- The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms.
- Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.
There are many recommended sets of usability heuristics, and not all of them may be appropriate for each project. Some common heuristics include:
- Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Heuristics
- Bruce Tognazzini’s First Principles of Interaction Design
- Ben Shneiderman’s Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design