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Feb 2005 Contents

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Low-Cost Usability Testing

by Bob Hurst
Sr. Business Analyst
Usability Services at Southwest Airlines

At Southwest Airlines, we are known for our low-cost philosophy, so when we decided to start doing formal usability testing, it made sense that we would use a low-cost approach.

Drawing of Southwest Airlines Usability Testing Setup

The above drawing shows the setup we use. The test users sit in front of a standard PC monitor and keyboard like they use on the job. However, we use a laptop PC as the CPU. The program being tested is displayed on both the laptop screen and the standard monitor.

Southwest Airlines Usability Session Photograph

In the above still from one of our sessions, the strategically placed video camera captures the laptop screen and the test user's comments and reactions as he works through the test scenarios. A laptop screen doesn't cause the annoying "vertical roll" that you get when video taping a standard CRT monitor. We have found that the 16 x 9 video format (instead of 4 x 3) allows us to get the best view of both the laptop screen and the test user.

We use three or four simple scenarios for each test - just a couple of paragraphs each - and watch to see what happens. We try to keep each session to about 45 - 50 minutes; most people find it hard to focus for longer than that.

When our testing and analysis are complete, we do a Power Point presentation for the development team and business customer to show them what we observed and what we think could improve usability. The video clips send a very powerful message.

The usability testing has been so successful and so well received by management, that we have been asked to create a proposal for integration of usability (user-centered design) into our development methodology. Woo - hoo!

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