Formative & Summative
What is the best time to do usability testing when I'm developing a new product or service?
When you consider the place of usability testing in the overall product development process, then there are two main types of usability test: formative testing and summative testing. (sometimes referred to as user experience testing)
Formative Usability Testing
Formative usability testing (find a description of usability testing here) takes the role of a support tool for decision making during the beginning stages of the design process and - if applied early in the development process - provides valuable insights of where users have difficulty reaching their user goals with the technology (website, desktop gui design, hardware product) or service.
In a typical project, we conduct two formative usability tests: one in the concept stage where the design may be captured as paper prototype with no working functionality. The paper would contain wireframes of the concepts with several key scenarios supported in this version of the product. This approach allows for a check of the workflow and validation of initial design decisions around navigation, terminology and rough layout.
The second formative usability test happens when early versions of the software and hardware are available to catch issues right at the beginning of the implementation phase.
Summative Usability Testing
Summative usability testing is a Quality Assurance (QA) type of test usually performed later in the development process. A similar usability test protocol is used as in formative usability testing but now this setup is used to do formal user acceptance testing before the product is released to the target audience.
A summative test uses specific metrics of users’ success to assess whether the product meets those metrics and can be released from a user experience perspective.
Akendi recommends to start doing formative usability tests as early as possible in the design process, right when the first wireframes are created and enough design is done to support 5-8 workflows/tasks.
By Tedde van Gelderen
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