Usability Testing as commonly practiced for online products, such as applications and websites, is only one aspect of a Total Experience Study (TES). To accurately reflect the effectiveness, efficiency, and success levels of a product it needs to be tested with people with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities, as well as with people from a wide range of ages. If a product is not tested for TES, then a minimum of 25% of the potential customers and users of the product are deliberately dismissed.
I have been a UX Designer for over 30 years. I became involved with Digital Accessibility over 15 years ago, and finally remained fully focused on it about 7 years ago. During all these years, I learned about usability testing approaches, and their value for clarifying product requirements, and to validate design solutions. I have been a facilitator, creator, and observer of discovery tests, usability tests, and heuristic evaluations. I have also audited designs and applications for their level of compliance for digital accessibility.
In the past, when I asked fellow researchers about the preferred age range of selected test subjects, I was often told that it is ages 35 to 55 years. Granted, my knowledge is not based on a scientific study, however this intrigued me to find out more about the general age distribution of people. Here are the facts according to the recent US Census:
- The younger working-age population is ages 18 to 44, representing 112.8 million persons (36.5%).
- The older working-age population is ages 45 to 64, making up 81.5 million persons (26.4%).
- The 65 and over population is 40.3 million persons (13.0%).
Based on these records, people ages 35 to 55 make up only 30% of the population. Even if they were all working and had no physical constraints (not likely at all), this is still less than 50% of the total working population. Let’s not forget that we have an aging population that needs to work longer years. Also, we know that in US 1 out of 4 people have some form of disability.
Test Standards and Criteria
Now, let’s look at the POUR principles set by WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) for a product to be effective, efficient, and successful for all users:
- Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Understandable – Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.
- Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Also, let’s remember a key standard set by ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, which is: – use by people with the widest range of capabilities”.
In order to assess the health of a product with regards to its usability by people with a wide range of capabilities, it needs to be tested by people with different abilities. Here are some of the practices that should become a common practice in a product development process:
- Designs are reviewed at their conception for their Total Experience
- Interactions and prototypes are reviewed and tested for their Total Experience
- Products are evaluated and audited for their Total Experience before they are declared “done”
- Pre-release, products are tested by people with different abilities, and/or are audited for their Total Experience
- Post release, products are also tested and studied with people with different abilities.
A product can’t possibly meet the general guidelines of Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Satisfaction for all people, without passing compliance to the measurable criteria of the POUR principles.
A Total Experience Study (TES) report, will include the outcome of the currently practiced “usability” as well as the results of its “accessibility” tests to generate an accurate picture of the experience of that product.
Watch for my follow up blog on the ways to review and test your designs and products.