Sometimes the nature of a product or its data prevents realistic task scenarios in the usability lab. Or participants may be unwilling or unable to come to the lab, for example, because of busy schedules or physical disabilities. In these cases, TecEd recommends field usability testing, a method we helped develop.
Field usability testing combines techniques from traditional lab testing and field research to test a product in the actual context in which it is used. In field testing, participants use a product in their own environments, with their own equipment and files, bookmarks, and other data.
Tasks in Field Usability Testing
As in lab testing, each participant performs the same tasks during field testing, although they may make quite different choices in how they carry out the tasks. Participants may describe how their actual daily activities differ from the test tasks, but we may not have time to watch them doing those activities as well.
Field testing is appropriate for released products, prototypes, and storyboards of new designs.
Benefits of Field Usability Testing
Field testing is useful for:
- Identifying problems users encounter as they follow their own work processes in everyday situations.
- Collecting qualitative data about the target audience that is unavailable in the lab. Especially in home and small business settings, the computer, software, and Internet service provider that participants use can affect their experience and behavior with a product. Work-space size, lighting quality, background noise, and interruptions from family members and pets may also be factors.
Conducting usability testing in users’ homes or workplaces lets us observe their natural behavior in context, but comparing performance among users can be more difficult. To ensure successful field testing, TecEd works with you to identify up front which of the collected data can be compared and which must be used descriptively.