Have you ever wondered if simply avoiding the term “test” in usability test situations may get you better results? We have and we think replacing the word “test” with the word “evaluation” is an improved description of the situation and will even help us to get less biased and therefore better 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 instead the term „test“ – especially when interacting with our participants, because – simply put – a usability test is nothing else than 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 meaning: 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 certain important 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 and this little fact may help to reduce stress levels and therefore errors because people will feel less „observed“ and „tested“ during the test situation. “Evaluation” is also a more precise word in this situation because you are not actually testing peoples’ skills while they interact with the product, you are testing/evaluating a product with their help. That is a huge difference, also in the test participants’ perception. Using the term “test” can result in so called experimenter effects – like demand characteristics – which describe the tendency of participants to give you (as the experimenter) what you want based on what the participants think/guess what you might expect from them – here: a 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 during the evaluation. 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 doing this better.
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