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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


ERUT is a valuable adaption and combination existing methodologies to use in public trade show situations where a company exhibits its products. A wide array of actual and potential customers are coming to these exhibits of their own accord. Being able to get a product in front of them for their evaluation is very attractive, and for some companies may be the only chance to run usability tests with true domain experts. ERUT can be both effective and inexpensive. It can provide guidance to what product features really matter to customers and where major usability (and usefulness) problems exist. This information can inform business aspects of the software (i.e., the validity of the selling proposition), software development (i.e., features to include, exclude, refine), and-most importantly as usability practitioners-those key areas of the product that should be evaluated using more formal HCI techniques. ERUT can also validate learning gained from rapid field methods such as contextual interviews, or from other methods such as heuristic reviews (Thomas, 1996), or even the external validity of laboratory-based usability test results.

When working a trade booth the participant is in control of the time and its use. Expect interruptions and be fluid enough to change from a usability tester's hat to a business hat. Remember that participants are in the booth for their benefit first, so your rapport with them in regards to questionnaires and test tasks must engage them on their level. When this is done well our experience is that extremely rapid usability testing can be an effective way of gathering user feedback in a trade show environment. As a rapid method to get in front of customers and elicit feedback on product direction, it is excellent.

There are cautions. As Thomas (1996, p.112) notes, results from quick and dirty methods are "illustrative rather than definitive." This method can provide insights only into usability issues. The results are not gospel and thus one must guard against the project stakeholders who treat this as the only evaluation procedure (especially if the results are very positive). Similarly a trade booth environment can generate its own excitement and could give a false sense of product success. There are also valid arguments against discount usability methods (Cockton & Woolrych, 2002). Certainly, we need more experiences and debate within HCI regarding collecting user feedback in such environments.


Mark Pawson thanks his colleague and friend Marc Shandro in challenging him to join him at PhotoPlus. Most of all, thanks to Athentech Technology Inc.'s president, and Mr. Pawson's former mentor, Jim Malcolm and vice president Brad Malcolm for giving him the opportunity to be engaged in such a unique project.

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