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Formal Web Usability Inspections

Testing Your Web Projects with "Real Users"

Formal Web usability inspection is a method that -formalizes the review of a specification or early prototype. A team of Usability Inspectors conducts the inspection. Their responsibilities include inspecting the design, discovering defects and logging them in a form, convening a meeting to discuss the findings and assigning the job of rectifying the defects to responsible individuals.

This technique also provided quantitative measurements that could be tracked using, statistical process control methods. Code inspections were also adapted, to check and track documentation defects, and usability defects were a logical next step.

The Proccedure Of Formal Web Usability Inspection

This method formalizes the review of a specification or early prototype. The basic steps are to assemble a team of four to eight inspectors, assign each of them a special role in the context of the inspection, distribute the design documents to be inspected along with, instructions. Have the inspectors go off on their own, to do their inspection, and convene later in a formal inspection meeting. Defects found are assigned to responsible parties to be fixed, and the cycle continues.

Assemble the team. Pick a team of interested people, that is, people who have a stake in making the web design, more usable. This usually includes engineers from the development, design, quality assurance, documentation, and technical support groups. Each person brings a diverse viewpoint about the design, and the potential to discover web usability defects is greater, with a diverse team.

Assign roles. The formal web usability inspection methodology borrows the inspection roles concept from code inspections. Each person on the team, besides having to inspect the design, has a role to play during the formal meeting. These roles are the following:

Moderator: Runs the meeting. Distributes and collects any materials needed. Schedules meetings, and coordinates defect assignment.

Owner: Designer of the web site to be inspected is usually the person, to whom the defects are assigned.
Recorder (sometimes called Scribe): Logs defects during the formal meeting.

Inspectors: Rest of the team members inspect the web design and report any defects found. Everyone can play the role of an inspector, regardless of their other role.

Distribute documents. For source code inspections, the document would be- a source code listing with line numbers plus instructions on what to look for--bad choice of tags, deprecated tags, appropriate nesting of tags, etc. For web usability inspections, this includes- descriptions of the site, including screen mockups if any, user profiles, typical user tasks, heuristics to use, and a defect logging form.

Inspect the web design. The inspectors work alone, through the web design and log the defects they find, on the form provided. Having a form, with an agreed-upon format for logging helps later, during the formal meeting when, the defects are discussed with the other inspectors. Each inspector assumes the role of a specific user from the user profile, and walks through the tasks of a particular scenario. Prior to inspection, each inspector should review the web heuristics, and keep them in mind during their solo inspection sessions.

Sometimes the form can be adapted, to incorporate the heuristics as a checklist. Defects are logged according to the task the inspector was trying to execute and the location of the defect. With code inspections, a line number locates the defect--however, line numbers aren't usually present in interfaces. Defect location can be given as the screen and field or control name, or by the command and option attempted.

Hold a formal meeting. During the meeting, the moderator walks the team through each task/scenario as a group. Inspectors chime in at each step with the defects they found during their own inspection. Often, a lot of new defects are found as the inspectors discuss each defect--different aspects one inspector might not have thought of are brought up during the meeting. Everybody agrees on the recorders logging of the defect this formal log will be tracked later.

Inspectors might be tempted to think up solutions during the meeting, or the owner might take umbrage at the pronounced defects and protest each entry. These delays make the meeting run less smoothly and hurt the method's chance of success. Part of the mediator's role is to reduce these distractions so the defects can be aggregated and logged. There'll be plenty of time to fix them later.

Prioritize and fix the defects. Defects logged during the meeting are assigned to responsible persons to be fixed. The moderator often coordinates this effort, tracking fixed and open defects, and arranging solution-brainstorming meetings if necessary.

Benefits Of Formal Web Usability Inspections

There is no substitute for seeing your customers actually using your design, and finding out where the design needs to be improved.Usability testing not only evaluate the use of the website, they also improve the process of iterative design. Frequent use of a usability test can establish a quick and easy way for designers to test the use of their product, and this forms the underlying goal of usability testing. Formal Usability Testing focuses on the actual behavior of subjects engaged in realistic interaction with a site. We look at what they do and listen to what they say. It's an extremely honest and direct method for exposing the strengths and weaknesses of an interface.

When Should You Use Formal Web Usability Inspections?

Since the inspectors can work with merely a specification or paper mockups, the technique lends itself well to early stages of development.


Like other inspection methods, this usability testing is designed to reduce the time required to discover defects in a tight web development life cycle. Formal web usability inspections include, aspects of other inspection methods too. Web Heuristics are used, to help non-usability professionals find usability defects. Inspectors, walk through tasks with the user's goals and purpose in mind, similar to cognitive walk-through, although the emphasis is less on cognitive theory and more on encountering defects.

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Last modified on 27 june 2004

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