Usability testing at conferences

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with people about the possibility of carrying out usability testing of applications during a conference or roadshow or similar. Although feedback is often collected at these events (by the Ensembl team, for example), this will often only cover what people think, and not what people do. If we could grab users for even 15 minutes at a time, and carry out some usability “micro-sessions”, we could still learn things.

Carrying out some kind of lightweight testing in this sort of environment hasn’t been explored to any great extent as far as I know, but I think it is something that we should try. It does have its limitations – this wouldn’t be formal user testing as such, since the sessions probably couldn’t be as long or as in-depth as they would otherwise, but it could still be very valuable.

Jenny Cham, who recently started her role as a user experience analyst at the EBI, is keen on this idea, too, so if you want to discuss it some more, get in touch one of us!

Below are links to a couple of resources that might help us develop our ideas for this approach to user testing…

IxDA forum discussion

Way back in 2007, there was a good discussion of usability testing at conferences on the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) forum.

That’s worth reading, to get some ideas of how to adapt user testing methodology to this environment, and to find out about various peoples’ experiences of this kind of testing. There are also some good points about meeting expert users and the need (as ever!) to give your test users something in return for their time.

Quality feedback

Some more trawling around on the web, and I found another useful article on the subject of carrying out testing at a conference.

The author has written her impressions of carrying out 13 user testing sessions at a big business conference. There are some really good ideas in there, too. For example:

  • try to recruit, screen and schedule testers in advance
  • watching people use your application is massively informative
  • having an existing, active user community (e.g. on Twitter or LinkedIn) can help

Some testing is better than no testing

I hope that gives some of you ideas for how to reach your users, and how to find out more about how they use the applications you develop…


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