What is a Usability Test?

There are two types of usability tests;  Formative and Summative.

What is a formative usability test?

Formative usability testing is an evaluation method that helps to “form” the product or website design. Representative users take part in exploratory test sessions where they are asked to perform representative tasks on actual and/or prototype products or websites.

When should a formative usability test be used?

Formative usability testing is typically performed iteratively during design and development phases to identify and resolve issues associated with the user interface design that impact efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction. Oftentimes usability issues can be identified as part of an initial formative test, design changes can be made to resolve or mitigate those issues, and the product or website can then be retested as part of a second formative test to ensure the usability issues have been addressed appropriately.

 What do you get from a formative usability test?

The output from a formative usability test typically includes documentation of the findings for each task and recommendations for resolving or mitigating usability issues identified in the user interface design. Performance and satisfaction metrics can be used to establish success criteria for summative testing. Improvements are typically implemented quickly and further (iterative) testing is done to verify the usability of the improvements and to support continuous forward progress. Additional outputs from formative testing may vary based on the needs of the design and development teams.

What is a summative test?

Summative testing is a comprehensive usability evaluation of a product or website in the context of how it is intended to be used in an actual use environment. Representative users take part in summative test sessions where they are asked to perform representative tasks under realistic conditions on final or near-final products or websites.

 When should a summative usability test be used?

Summative testing should be performed near the end of the product development phase on a final or near-final product or website. The goals of summative testing are to establish benchmarks for efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction; and to determine if the product or website has successfully met usability goals / success criteria that were established during formative testing.

 What do you get from a summative usability?

The output from a summative test typically includes documentation of the findings for each task including performance summaries, a determination of whether or not usability goals / success criteria have been met for the product or website, a use error analysis discussing the results organized around a risk analysis of use, mitigation strategies for observed use errors, and recommendations for next generation releases or refreshes based on human factors principles.