Friday, September 26, 2008

Quality Assurance Is Not Usability Testing

What may be obvious to some is not so clear to others.  Quality assurance and usability testing are not same.

My current project work has placed me in the role of usability test participant rather than usability test moderator or usability test developer.  Much of this has been by choice because I think it is good for usability professionals to take a step back and place themselves in the shoes of the test participant.  There is much to learn from being a test participant.  The knowledge I've gain from being in this current role has created topics for future blog posts, but today I want to talk about one important thing I learned in regards to test methodology - the form of testing implemented plays a role in the kind of test data that is received.

I'm not sure if the folks I'm working with are using different terminology (where they say "usability testing", but they really mean "quality assurance" or vice versa) or if there is confusion over the definition of the two terms.  Quality assurance and usability testing are two completely different forms of testing and by defintion they produce two totally different forms of test data.

It breaks down to this:

  • Quality assurance tests the suitability of a product.  In other words, is it ready for use and free of bugs or errors (OK, minimal bugs and errors).
  • Usability testing tests the usefulness or performance of a product as it applies to the end-user.
Please note, when I say "products" it can also mean software applications, web applications or websites.

I'm sorry to say that the test I'm participating in is a quality assurance test, not a usability test, despite what the moderators say.  We're running test scripts and tasks to record results, but there is very little study into what the end-user's emotional response is to the application or overall performance related to basic tasks.  We're simply finding bugs and reporting them to the developers to fix.

If you are in the process of setting up your own usability test, be clear about your objectives and the data you want to record.  Do you want to measure the suitability of your product or its usefulness?  The type of test you implement will produce different forms of data which you can act upon.

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