Julia Caffrey

Competitive Usability Testing

Jan 21, 2016

I recently conducted formal usability testing in a team setting with classmates for Dr. Rong Tang’s class Usability and User Experience Research. I highly recommend Dr. Tang’s class.

The testing I did was supervised by the brilliant User Research department at EBSCO, including Deidre Costello and Miranda Hunt. My teammates were Lucy Taylor and Molly Rogers. We conducted formal usability testing, a content inventory, and heuristic evaluation based on Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design.

The experience was invaluable. From my desk in Library Technology at Simmons College Library, I am often frustrated by how far behind libraries are: our websites, our software (namely our ILS products), our open source solutions.

Why Test Competitively?

Users bring expectations

We can’t expect that users’ information needs and habits aren’t already shaped by their everyday experiences the moment they walk through our gates or access our sites. Those “unsophisticated” search terms entered, their expectations for what information they expect to see and where – these are all shaped by forces that we, as stewards of the resources we offer, can realistically lose sight of. So why not test? And while we’re at it, why not ask the tough questions about what users prefer and why?

The benefit of environmental scanning

Your library is not a bubble. While your library might not compete with the library down the street for funding, but similar resources are available to our peers. It’s in our best interest to not only compare our professional experiences with the tools we use on a day-to-day basis, but how our users experience them. This not only gives us an understanding of how those tools are used, but gives us information to pass on to our vendors so that they can also remain competitive.

Librarians already have a healthy culture of sharing resources through publications and conferences and other informal means of professional development. Competitive usability testing through already strong networks would nudge library systems and tools toward sorely needed, meaningful progress.