1504.0 - Methodological News, Sep 2008  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 23/09/2008   
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DCM Introduces Usability Testing Guidelines for ABS Survey Instruments

The Data Collection Methodology (DCM) section in MDMD is currently revising the Forms Development and Evaluation Manual, which provides documentation on how to conduct a range of different form evaluations. The most recent addition to the manual is a chapter on usability testing, which refers to a range of techniques designed to test how "user friendly" an electronic interface is.

Usability testing can be used to test the design and functionality of any electronic interface, and is used to find aspects of the design that can be simplified or improved to make use of the interface easier and more satisfying. While it is commonly used to test the effectiveness of website design, the focus of the chapter is the evaluation of electronic survey instruments (e.g. Excel forms, Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) interfaces, web forms, etc.).

In addition, usability testing can compare the functionality and visual design of two or more similar instruments, or to evaluate the design of a single instrument at various stages of development. In both cases, usability testing aims to evaluate both the visual design of the interface, and the ease with which the instrument is accessed and navigated by the user (either the respondent or, in the case of interviewer-administered instruments, the interviewer).

Two distinct methods can be referred to as usability testing: inspection methods and end-user evaluation methods. Inspection methods are similar to an expert review and are best used early in the design process to evaluate a paper mock up or prototype instrument. End-user testing encompasses a wide range of testing methods, including observational methods, cognitive interview techniques, the collection of empirical performance data, and questioning respondents directly. For the best results, inspection method testing of a prototype instrument should be followed by end-user testing. Conducting iterative usability testing in this way will ensure that the final instrument is free of errors and easy for the user to complete.

The chapter describes both methods in detail and explains how to plan for and conduct iterative usability testing. For more information, please contact Jennifer Mitchell on (02) 6252 7783 or jennifer.mitchell@abs.gov.au