Book Image

Handbook of Usability Testing - Second Edition

By : Jeffrey Rubin, Dana Chisnell
Book Image

Handbook of Usability Testing - Second Edition

By: Jeffrey Rubin, Dana Chisnell

Overview of this book

Whether it's software, technical documentation, a cell phone, or a refrigerator, your customer expects your product to be easy to use. Completely updated with current industry best practices and more varied examples, it can give you that all-important marketplace advantage: products that perform the way users expect. The first part of the book introduces you to the overview of testing which covers the definition of the key terms and presents an expanded discussion of user-centered design and other usability techniques. As you progress, you’ll learn the various steps involved in performing a test. The later chapters explore the advanced testing methods and discuss how to extend one’s influence of the whole product development strategy. By the end of this book, you’ll have the exact knowledge to understand and improve the usability of your product.
Table of Contents (6 chapters)

Preface to the Second Edition

Welcome to the revised, improved second edition of Handbook of Usability Testing. It has been 14 long years since this book first went to press, and I'd like to thank all the readers who have made the Handbook so successful, and especially those who communicated their congratulations with kind words.

In the time since the first edition went to press, much in the world of usability testing has changed dramatically. For example, “usability,” “user experience,” and “customer experience,” arcane terms at best back then, have become rather commonplace terms in reviews and marketing literature for new products. Other notable changes in the world include the Internet explosion, (in its infancy in ’94) the transportability and miniaturization of testing equipment, (lab in a bag anyone?), the myriad methods of data collection such as remote, automated, and digitized, and the ever-shrinking life cycle for introducing new technological products and services. Suffice it to say, usability testing has gone mainstream and is no longer just the province of specialists. For all these reasons and more, a second edition was necessary and, dare I say, long overdue.

The most significant change in this edition is that there are now two authors, where previously, I was the sole author. Let me explain why. I have essentially retired from usability consulting for health reasons after 30 plus years. When our publisher, Wiley, indicated an interest in updating the book, I knew it was beyond my capabilities alone, yet I did want the book to continue its legacy of helping readers improve the usability of their products and services. So I suggested to Wiley that I recruit a skilled coauthor (if it was possible to find one who was interested and shared my sensibilities for the discipline) to do the heavy lifting on the second edition. It was my good fortune to connect with Dana Chisnell, and she has done a superlative job, beyond my considerable expectations, of researching, writing, updating, refreshing, and improving the Handbook. She has been a joy to work with, and I couldn't have asked for a better partner and usability professional to pass the torch to, and to carry the Handbook forward for the next generation of readers.

In this edition, Dana and I have endeavored to retain the timeless principles of usability testing, while revising those elements of the book that are clearly dated, or that can benefit from improved methods and techniques. You will find hundreds of additions and revisions such as:

  • Reordering of the main sections (see below).
  • Reorganization of many chapters to align them more closely to the flow of conducting a test.
  • Improved layout, format, and typography.
  • Updating of many of the examples and samples that preceded the ascendancy of the Internet.
  • Improved drawings.
  • The creation of an ancillary web site,, which contains supplemental materials such as:
    • Updated references.
    • Books, blogs, podcasts, and other resources.
    • Electronic versions of the deliverables used as examples in the book.
    • More examples of test designs and, over time, other deliverables contributed by the authors and others who aspire to share their work.

Regarding the reordering of the main sections, we have simplified into three parts the material that previously was spread among four sections. We now have:

  • Part 1: Overview of Testing, which covers the definition of key terms and presents an expanded discussion of user-centered design and other usability techniques, and explains the basics of moderating a test.
  • Part 2: Basic Process of Testing, which covers the how-to of testing in step-by-step fashion.
  • Part 3: Advanced Techniques, which covers the who?, what?, where?, and how? of variations on the basic method, and also discusses how to extend one's influence on the whole of product development strategy.

What hasn't changed is the rationale for this book altogether. With the demand for usable products far outpacing the number of trained professionals available to provide assistance, many product developers, engineers, system designers, technical communicators, and marketing and training specialists have had to assume primary responsibility for usability within their organizations. With little formal training in usability engineering or user-centered design, many are being asked to perform tasks for which they are unprepared.

This book is intended to help bridge this gap in knowledge and training by providing a straightforward, step-by-step approach for evaluating and improving the usability of technology-based products, systems, and their accompanying support materials. It is a ”how-to” book, filled with practical guidelines, realistic examples, and many samples of test materials.

But it is also intended for a secondary audience of the more experienced human factors or usability specialist who may be new to the discipline of usability testing, including:

  • Human factors specialists
  • Managers of product and system development teams
  • Product marketing specialists
  • Software and hardware engineers
  • System designers and programmers
  • Technical communicators
  • Training specialists

A third audience is college and university students in the disciplines of computer science, technical communication, industrial engineering, experimental and cognitive psychology, and human factors engineering, who wish to learn a pragmatic, no-nonsense approach to designing usable products.

In order to communicate clearly with these audiences, we have used plain language, and have kept the references to formulas and statistics to a bare minimum. While many of the principles and guidelines are based on theoretical and practitioner research, the vast majority have been drawn from Dana's and my combined 55 years of experience as usability specialists designing, evaluating, and testing all manner of software, hardware, and written materials. Wherever possible, we have tried to offer explanations for the methods presented herein, so that you, the reader, might avoid the pitfalls and political landmines that we have discovered only through substantial trial and error. For those readers who would like to dig deeper, we have included references to other publications and articles that influenced our thinking at


In writing this book, we have placed tremendous trust in the reader to acknowledge his or her own capabilities and limitations as they pertain to user-centered design and to stay within them. Be realistic about your own level of knowledge and expertise, even if management anoints you as the resident usability expert. Start slowly with small, simple studies, allowing yourself time to acquire the necessary experience and confidence to expand further. Above all, remember that the essence of user-centered design is clear (unbiased) seeing, appreciation of detail, and trust in the ability of your future customers to guide your hand, if you will only let them.

—Jeff Rubin