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Reverse Engineering of Content to Find Usability Problems: A Healthcare Case Study

Shadi Ghajar-Khosravi, Flora Wan, Samir Gupta, and Mark Chignell

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 8, Issue 1, November 2012, pp. 16 - 28


For tools that involve the creation of an artifact or document, reverse engineering potentially provides an interesting alternative to task-based usability testing. In this case study, participants were shown an artifact and asked to recreate it using a software tool. Would the reverse engineering testing method be as successful as traditional task-based methods in uncovering usability problems? Would test participants be comfortable using the method? Participants used both reverse engineering and task-based approaches to usability testing in counterbalanced order. Using an online tool for developing asthma action plans, the reverse engineering method uncovered more usability problems than the traditional task-based usability testing method. The 12 test participants had a positive attitude towards the reverse engineering method although it took them longer to perform their tasks and they faced a greater number of issues. Both the longer task time and the greater number of problems uncovered were likely caused by the greater attention to detail that reverse engineering requires of participants. This case study demonstrates that reverse engineering may be a useful alternative to pre-defining the tasks for the participant when carrying out a usability test.

Tips for Usability Practitioners

Our bottom line message for practitioners based on our experience with the case study is that the reverse-engineering approach is useful if you want to

On the other hand, the reverse-engineering method is not recommended if

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Reverse Engineering of Content to Find Usability Problems: A Healthcare Case Study