‘Usability Testing – A Practitioner’s Guide to Evaluating the User Experience’ – Morten Hertzum

by | Apr 29, 2020 | Digital workplace, Intranets

Over the years there have been many books written on usability testing. ‘Don’t make me think’ by Steve Krug was my starting point for many years and my copy has quite an array of highlighting and comment. In addition, the work of the Nielsen Norman Group has been outstanding in raising the issues of usability and providing solutions. More recently I have suggested that usability is so important that we should start with the proposed user interface and then work backwards to see what really does need to be presented, and how.

I was therefore delighted to come across a new book from Morten Hertzum , Professor of Information Science at the University of Copenhagen. ‘Usability Testing – A Practitioner’s Guide to Evaluating the User Experience’ that has just been published by Morgan and Claypool. This book is like no other that I have come across on this topic in that Professor Hertzum bases his text on the wealth of academic (usually) research that has been carried out over the last couple of decades in human-computer interaction, citing around 200 research papers and reports in the process.

The topics covered in the book are

  • Usability and the User Experience
  • Testing: Maxims and Modifications
  • Usability Testing: Step by Step
  • Preparations: Designing and Planning the Test
  • Execution: Running the Test Session
  • Analysis: Analyzing the Data and Reporting the Findings
  • Variations and Alternatives

The final chapter includes (for example) remote and unmoderated usability tests and pairwise usability tests.

The book is only 103 pages long but packs a wealth of information and commentary into this relatively short book. The author sets out to balance what are often conflicting views on how these tests should be designed and undertaken, adding in his own opinions based on many years of work in this area. It may come as a surprise to many readers that often inspiring authors of other books on this topic present their own views based on their personal experience. Valuable though this can be, seeing alternate views can also be very valuable.

Your initial reaction to a book written by an academic might be that the writing style will be academic and without access to the original research the book will have little value to the practitioner. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I felt that the author was talking to me and not preaching to me, and that there is enough extraction of the core elements of the research not to need to track down the research papers that have been cited. There are many checklists and call-out summaries that can be used without any recourse to the original research.

My only (but major) concern in recommending the book is that there is no discussion about accessibility, a subject that still has not had the attention that it deserves. This book does nothing to improve this situation. See for example a recent paper [pdf]  by a team from the Mixed Reality Laboratory, Department of Computer Science, University of Nottingham and Disability Interaction (DIX): A Manifesto.

To me the core benefit of the approach is that Professor Hertzum presents me with evidence to which I can then add my own interpretation. You can see for yourself from a free download of Chapter 1. A look through the author’s list of publications will give you a good sense of the depth of his expertise in this area. Intriguingly both Morten Hertzum and Jakob Nielsen are Danish.  

The print version of the book is currently $39.95 and the e-book pdf is $31.96. The publishers also offer various packages and it is well worth looking through other books in the Human-Centered Informatics series.

Martin White