Usability Test and Contextual Interview


Usability testing and contextual interview are very similar methods. Many specialists just have a tendency to focus on narrow, strictly-beforehand-defined questions in usability tests. This approach does not leave much space for learning about user activities, real experiences and real situations of use. By contrast in contextual interviews, questions and tasks are typically open-ended and related to real user activities. The line between usability test and contextual interview is blurred, like the difference between structured and thematic interviews.

Design people tend to have a negative attitude towards usability testing and research. This is probably due to a narrow understanding of usability and the strategy of easy wins, both strongly driven by usability people like Jakob Nielsen. In a wider sense, usability means how appropriate, practical and pleasant services and products are to their real users in real situations. This is the “real” meaning of usability, defined in the ISO standard #9241. Usability is much more than big fonts and contrasts when it is developed in an appropriate, contextual way.

3 thoughts on “Usability Test and Contextual Interview

  1. I think there is a growing positive feeling towards usability and user experience design – at least that has been my personal experience. I think there is sometimes a lack of education or understanding about what usability testing can do for a site, or a misconception that a designer should understand every facet of making a design usable for a certain site. Of course, since every site or design has a unique audience, it’s impossible for designers to be able to know and understand all of these different groups. I think this is where usability testing steps in; and all of the designers I’ve discussed this with really appreciate and support this point of view.That’s my two cents on it anyway. Cheers!

  2. See an earlier post for my opinion of how business reasons and organization relationships drive usability to its narrow, "discount" meaning.

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