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Extremely Rapid Usability Testing

Mark Pawson and Saul Greenberg

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 4, Issue 3, May 2009, pp. 124-135

Article Contents


Methodology Details

The following sections discuss the booth setup; recruiting participants; questionnaires; choice of tasks; co-discovery, think aloud, and active intervention techniques; and storyboarding for recording results.

Booth Setup

The trade booth doubles as both a marketing venue and the usability testing area. While it is possible to have two separate booths, we believe a single one is best as it is the product marketing that attracts the participants (discussed shortly). Still, it is important to isolate the testing area from the direct flow of the convention crowd, perhaps by partitioning the booth into two areas: an outer booth for marketing and an inner booth for testing. Without an isolated quieter area, the evaluator runs considerable risk of introducing interactions and distractions in the booth between test participants and those wandering in and out of the booth (IXDA 2007).

In our case, PhotoPlus attracted huge crowds with over 27,000 registered participants. To adjust the flow of potential participants and to isolate the test area, we set the booth walls up around the outside perimeter of the allotted booth area assigned to PhotoPlus. The outside of the booth walls were hung with promotional posters and sample pictures of Perfectly ClearŪ technology, as illustrated in Figure 1. We then created a doorway into the inner booth, which became the test area as illustrated in Figure 2. As discussed below, the Athentech marketing representative would then feed participants through this doorway when we were able to receive them.

Figure 1. The booth's exterior, used for product promotion and marketing. Note the doorway to the interior testing area on the right.

Figure 1. The booth's exterior, used for product promotion and marketing. Note the doorway to the interior testing area on the right.

Figure 2. The booth's interior, used as a testing area.

Figure 2. The booth's interior, used as a testing area.

Recruiting Participants

The trade show offered ease of access to a large variety of domain experts and potential customers in one place. The question was how do we recruit these people given the large number of other booths competing for their attention?

In our case, the attractant was the pictures that hung on the booth wall exteriors that displayed the before and after effects of the Perfectly ClearŪ technology (Figure 1), and the unique selling proposition delivered by the Athentech representative working the front of the booth. The Athentech representative served as our gatekeeper. He invited interested potential customers to test the product, while controlling the flow into the testing area.

Interested attendees typically asked a booth representative for a demonstration. While many booths provided such demonstrations, our representative explained that the product was still in its early stages and that only those people willing to participate in usability test could try it. Those who volunteered to participate in usability testing were then invited into the booth on a first come, first served basis. Participants felt that they were in control of this process, for it came out of their desire to try the system. To make this work, much of the preliminary process that precedes a usability study was discarded. For example, we did not use written consent forms, nor did we offer incentives to have people participate in the usability testing (although we did give participants gifts of all-natural chocolate from the Amazon rainforest). Certainly, the issue of consent has to be revisited both to inform the participant more clearly and for organizational liability; the question is how to do such consent effectively within this context.

Of course, we could not handle all possible participants due to time constraints. Yet those who could not participate were not necessarily lost opportunities. We scanned in contact information from the badges of several hundred trade show attendees who were interested in trialing (and thus evaluating) a beta copy of the product at a future time.

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