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UX thoughts: Language matters!

20. April 2017 | User Experience, User Research

Reading time: 3 minutes

Have you ever wondered if by avoiding the term “test” in usability test situations, you may receive better test results? We believe replacing the word “test” with the word “evaluation” is an improved description of the situation and may even help us get less biased and more accurate results!

As language determines perception, we think it is better to use the term “evaluation” when it comes to usability testing situations, especially when interacting with our participants. Simply because a usability test is an evaluation of a product/system with somebody’s help – namely our participants – who are or might be the users of the product/system.

So unlike a heuristic evaluation or cognitive walkthroughs, which you will do by analyzing the product by yourself – a usability test is an empirical evaluation of a product/system with the help of people, who use or might use a specific system or product. “Empirical” here means the knowledge or source of the knowledge is acquired by your senses, mostly by observation. In a usability test, you will observe (and interview) representative users trying to accomplish defined tasks as they are using the product.

We prefer the term “usability evaluation (with users)” over “usability test” or even “user test”, simply because the term “test” is avoided. This little fact may help to reduce stress levels and therefore errors due to people feeling less “observed” and “tested” during the test situation. “Evaluation” is also a more precise word in this situation because you are not testing peoples’ skills while they interact with the product. You are testing/evaluating a product with their help.

This makes a huge difference, also in the participants’ perceptions. Using the term “test” can result in so-called experimenter effects, which describe the tendency of participants to give you (the experimenter) what you want, based on what the participants think/guess that you might expect from them – here: a specific test “result”. This may lead to the participants focusing on how to solve tasks error-free and to please. Such effects may put the complete validity of your usability test at risk.

In addition, we believe the term evaluation will help people feel much more included because it prevents a “we vs them” situation, which can help to reduce further stress. We should always keep in mind that our participants help us and cooperate with us in evaluating a product/system and just using slightly different terms, may help do this better.

Image (CC BY 2.0)

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