5.0 out of 5 stars
A solid textbook on usability testing that includes web, May 30 2003
It's been a long time since we've had a new textbook on usability testing. Dumas and Redish came out in 1993, Rubin in 1994 and although I still use both of them constantly, I've been looking out for a solid textbook that has more awareness of the web in it. Carol Barnum's new book meets that need.
The book opens with chapters on 'What is Usability and What is Usability Testing', 'Other Methods for Getting Feedback About Product Usability', 'User and Task Analysis', and 'Iterative Testing for User-Centred Design'. I can see that Carol wants to set user testing in context, but I was concerned that if you're really new to usability testing then you might be put off by Chapter 2 'Other methods', as it is a very densely written chapter that describes many techniques very briefly.
The meat of the book starts at Chapter 5 with 'Planning for Usability Testing' and continues through 'Preparing for Usability Testing', 'Conducting the Usability Test', and 'Analysing and Reporting Results'. The book then changes course slightly with a chapter on 'Web Usability', giving some design principles as well as details of applying the methods to the web.
Our Open University students love the plentiful examples in our course on User Interface Design and Evaluation. Carol Barnum's book should also appeal because of its extensive use of examples. She gives lots of detail from a student team's test of Hotmail (Microsoft's web-based e-mail service) so you can see the process as they tackled it. I found it a little frustrating that there weren't any screen shots of Hotmail as it stood at the time of the test. As well as the Hotmail example she uses excerpts from a test of a University web site, and has lots of anecdotes and smaller examples as well, many of them aimed at testing documentation - a neglected area. Perhaps the amount of space taken up the examples means that there is less meat in the core of the book, but if I were a beginner I'd find it very reassuring. Conversely, though, experienced practitioners might find Chapter 5 onwards a bit basic.
Academics and practitioners who like to follow up interesting ideas will be glad to know that there is extensive referencing. The appendices placed in context with the chapters broke the flow for me somewhat when I was reading the book at a sitting, but I think they would be more convenient placed where they are when using the book to actually plan and conduct a test. Each chapter closes with questions/topics for discussion and exercises which looked helpful to me if you were planning to use this as a textbook, or if you are a new practitioner who is using the book as a guide through your first usability tests.
Carol Barnum's style is clear and easy to read as you would expect from a Professor in Technical Communication. She often uses comments from Chauncey Wilson, a very experienced practitioner to give some practical tips and insights, but I sometimes found myself wishing that she had put more a more personal touch, more of her own practical experience, explicitly into the book. Apart from a couple of anecdotes, the word 'I' hardly appears until we get some of her own opinions on web usability at the end of Chapter 9. We can guess at one of her concerns because she includes an interesting appendix on 'Making it work as a team', which I though was a good, concise introduction.
I would recommend this book as an introductory text for undergraduates because of the extensive examples, fairly reasonable price and referencing. I think it would also be good for practitioners - for people who are getting started with user testing - to help them through their first test. I think that I'll find myself recommending that readers should start with Chapter 5, and then come back to Chapters 1 to 4 later.
(This review was written for 'Interfaces', the magazine of the British HCI Group)