Usability ABC

The Usability ABC is a collection of Usability and User Experience (UX) definitions. It is a joint collaboration between UsabilityGeek and Usabilla


The accessibility of a website describes how well users with limitations can access it. These limitations can be technical, such as a slow Internet connection, or an outdated operating system. They can also be physical, like blindness, or for example a handicap that makes it impossible for users to operate a mouse. An accessible website offers solutions for these limitations, like a simple HTML version that does not require special browser plug-ins, low resolution images to ensure a short loading time, screen reader optimization, or the compatibility with alternative input devices.
Active informed consent
Active informed consent means that participants have actively decided to participate in a study. Usually participants receive a consent form, which they are asked to sign and return to the researcher. Active consent is only possible if participants are not under age. Active informed consent should for example be asked if the research is expected to have any personal, or long term impact on the participant, or if the researcher intends to publish any test material.

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Brainstorming describes a creative process to generate ideas around a defined topic. You can brainstorm alone or in a group. Brainstorming in a group is handy because several people are likely to have more ideas than you have on your own. Besides, in a group, brainstorming can help to match up ideas about a certain topic and put everyone into the same perspective.
Breadcrumbs are a special form of navigation, which is sometimes offered on a website. Breadcrumbs help users orientate within a website by indicating their current location. They usually start at the home page and then list step by step the different web pages the user has visited before getting to the current page. Breadcrumbs are usually interactive and can be used to go back to any of the pages visited between the home and the current page.

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Conversion rate
Conversion rate describes the number of users who engaged in desired actions after visiting your website. These actions can be subliminal or direct requests made on the website. Depending on the services you offer, this can be a signup for an account, the purchase of a product, the request for further information, or anything else you want your users to do.

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Debriefing describes the last phase of a user test, usually in form of a concluding conversation or in written words. During the debriefing, participants are given sufficient information about the purpose and set up of the study to avoid psychological damage or possible after-effects. Also misleading information that was given during an experiment, should be corrected. It should be one of your main concerns to make sure you don’t harm your participants in any way.
Desirability is a phenomenon that occurs in usability research when users give answers that are socially desirable instead of truthful. Users tend to form their answers in a way that is approved by others. This behavior can seriously influence your test results because participants might either weaken a negative aspect or qualify positive aspects. In groups, desirability can lead to consensus and therefore homogeneous results. To avoid desirability, make sure all participants feel confident to speak the truth.

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A prototype can be of low or high fidelity. The fidelity of a prototype describes the degree to which it is finalized or similar to the final product. The more features of the final product a prototype has, the higher its fidelity. A paper sketch of a website is of low fidelity while a clickable simulation of a website which already shows design and functionality is of high fidelity.
The fold of a website is an imaginary line that divides your website into two parts. The part above the fold is what you see immediately after loading a website in your browser. The part below the fold can only be seen after scrolling the page. So depending on the size of your browser window, or more dominantly your screen, the position of the fold can vary. Make sure to place your most relevant information and links above the fold.
The footer of a web page can be seen as counterpart to the header. Together, the two form a frame around the content of the web page. The footer is located at the very bottom of the web page and usually contains information of minor importance. This information includes for example legal statements, terms of use, copyright information, etc. Just like the header, the footer of a web page usually is the same for the whole website.

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The header of a web page describes a structural element which helps better divide the content. The header is always located at the very top of the web page and usually includes a company’s logo, the main navigation, and some visual elements. The header ideally gives a quick overview of the purpose of the website and it’s content. Besides, a header can be used to get users engaged and interested. Usually, the header is a reoccurring element on all web pages of a website.
The homepage describes the start page of a website. This means that visitors of the website are supposed to visit the homepage first before browsing to other web pages. All web pages of the website should be easily accessible through the homepage. The URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of a Website usually leads to the homepage.
Human Computer Interaction (HCI)
Obviously, HCI has something to do with people, computers, and interaction. Basically, it is all about how people use computers. HCI looks at human usage of interactive computing systems from a multiple perspectives including computer science, psychology, ergonomics, and sociology. The main objective is it to bring users and computer systems closer together so systems can be used more effectively.

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Incentives are usually given in return for the participation in a user test. Incentives can be an agreed amount of money as well as any kind of present. Incentives are a big motivational factor for participants. If you give something away, people are way more willing to give something back in return. In case you want to collect quantitative data and need a lot of participants, you can for example raffle a prize for every 20 participants.
Information architecture
Information architecture describes the presentation of information on a website. This includes three main aspects:

1. The structure of the information, such as which elements to link and which categories to group them in.

2. The design of the navigation to ensure that users understand it.

3. The wording of different content elements and categories that correspond with users’ expectations.

A good information architecture ensures that website visitors quickly find what they are looking for.
Informed consent
Informed consent describes the ethical aspect of user testing, which ensures that participants participate out of free will after they have considered all aspects of the research. Be it for educational, nonprofit, or commercial reasons, whenever you collect data, make sure you inform your participants about the nature of the research, their role as participants, and how you intend to use the test results. Never go public with e.g. video or audio material of a test session without having your participants consent.
Interaction Design
When we hear the term Interaction design, we might be tempted to believe that it is the actual design that we encounter on a website. However, while a graphic designer comes up with the visual design, an interaction designer is responsible for the dialog between user and interface. Interaction design comprises the conception and functionality of the interface which facilitates the communication between the user and the interactive system.
Iterative Design
Iterative design describes a cyclic design process which is defined through repetitive user testing. Based on a first concept, a prototype is created. This prototype is tested to verify the concept. After analyzing the test results, the concept is refined and the design goes into its next iteration. This process should be repeated until users find no more issues that need to be improved.

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Main body
The main body of a web page describes the area in the middle of the page (between the header, the footer and optional side bars) that contains the actual content.
Mind map
A mind map usually visualizes the results of a brainstorming. You start with one central term and going from there, you add all different ideas. Link ideas that seem to be connected by grouping them or drawing a line between them. A mind map reflects connected ideas around a certain topic, as they are memorized in your mind.
A mockup is the followup step after a wireframe. It includes the actual design and therefore represents the final user interface. Mockups can either be static images, or simulate functionality to different degrees. Mockups can be used to test the user interface at low development costs.

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Parental consent
Parental consent describes the consent required from parental authorities in case of underage test participants. As the legal age differs between countries, make sure to check for your own country, whether you need parental consent or not. In some cases, e.g. when doing research with positive effects, consent given by under age participants can be sufficient.
Passive informed consent
Especially for quantitative studies, that don’t involve any ethical concerns, passive informed consent can be very convenient. Passive consent implies someones participation in a study. However, when going with passive consent for a research, it is still important to offer sufficient information and a simple way for people to resign. Implied participation does not mean it’s obligatory.
Personas are concrete descriptions of possible users. A persona usually includes basic demographics, a picture, and any information that help bring the fictive person to life. This can be characteristics to describe the personality, but also goals, preferences, and limitations that can be directly linked to the product or system under development. Through a variety of different personas, a target group becomes more concrete. Especially in the beginning of a design process, personas help to pin down specific user requirements.
Pilot test
A pilot test is a pretest that is performed to conform the quality of a usability test. Just like you test your user interface, make sure you focus your user tests on your participants. By pretesting, you can identify if you focus on the right target group, if your questions are easy to understand, if the length of your test is appropriate, etc.
A prototype is a provisional version of a product or system that is used to visualizes ideas and test functionalities. Prototypes are used in all different fields and in different stages of the development of a product. The idea behind prototyping is to validate ideas and concepts early in the development process in order to save time and money. Changes in prototypes can be made quite easily compared with changes in fully functional products.

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The reliability of a research indicates how reliable the results are. Reliable results are consistent over time and different researchers. A research should be set up in a way that anyone can duplicate it at anytime and get the same results.

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Satisficing mostly appears in usability research with children. Children don’t want to disappoint adults, or authority figures. Rather than answering truthfully, they tend to give answers that they think they are expected to give. This is especially true for negative aspects, which makes it even more difficult because usability issues are mostly negative. Make sure your participants know, that they cannot do anything wrong or give wrong answers. Not they, but the test interface is being tested.
Selection bias
Selection bias occurs in usability studies when your selected test participants either don’t represent your target group, or when they are not selected randomly. Examples of non random samples can be an imbalance in aspects like gender, expertise, or geographical location, or only people, who are already extremely enthusiastic about product, agree to participate in your study. A selection bias can influenced and possibly falsify your test results.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization or Search Engine Optimizer. The Web offers endless opportunities to sell services, information, or products. However, in order to profit from these opportunities, it is essential to rank high in search engines like Google or Yahoo. Users, who look for anything you offer, need to find your website at the very top of their search results list. Through SEO you can increase your traffic by increasing the chance that people find your website.
A scenario describes how a persona interacts with a product or system to reach certain goals. Scenarios show how different personas use a product or system differently. Especially in early stages of the design process, scenarios help to identify user requirements and understand how users approach a task. Scenarios consider users’ personalities, their interests, abilities, and limitations, but also environmental aspects, that influence the interaction with a product or system.
The sitemap of a website gives an overview of all web pages that are included in the website. The sitemap shows how the different web pages are linked and helps the user gain a conceptual understanding of the site. Ideally, the sitemap is interactive and allows users to directly go to the different pages.

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Target group
A target group describes a certain group of people for whom a system or product is intended. The target group consists of future users who define the requirements for a product or system. A target group can be very specific and defined, or very broad. The more specific the target group, the more specific the product requirements that can be identified.
A task describes the means-ends process users engage in when using a system. Users have a goal which they try to reach by performing a certain task. A task can stand alone or be combined in a series with other tasks. Task oriented user testing includes tasks that are expected to be identical with real world tasks. Users are asked to perform a task, which allows insights into how well a system is designed to meet the requirements users have so they can reach their goals.
The task-flow describes how different tasks are connected with each other. Instead of performing only one task, users perform a series of tasks in order to reach one goal. A good task flow indicates that the user does not get interrupted and reaches his or her goal as directly as possible.
Think-aloud protocol
Think-aloud protocol is a research technique that is mainly used for user testing. Test participants are asked to verbalize their thoughts, actions and feelings while interacting with a test interface. This way, test moderators can get detailed information about what participants expect, why they perform certain actions, or what bothers themm.
Traffic describes the amount of data that users receive from and send to a website. The traffic of a web page results from the number of page visitors and the number of file requests per visitor. Traffic can be measured with web analytics. In case of traffic overload, there is too much traffic for one web page which can result in denied access to the page. Popular websites prevent this from happening by splitting the file requests of many users between several servers.

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Unique site visitor
The number of unique site visitors indicates how many people have actually visited a web page. Web analytic tools identify visitors by their IP address, which makes it possible to not only measure traffic, but also see if visitors visit a site only once or several times. If visitors return, they are still counted as one unique site visitor.
According to the International Standards Organization (ISO 9241), Usability is the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use. Now this is a very official sounding definition. In other words, good usability implies that users can easily use a product and by doing so, reach their goals quickly and without falling into despair. Some aspects of usability overlap with the user experience of a system. Good usability should also include a good user experience.
Usability Engineering
Usability engineering basically comprises the execution of all aspects related to usability. However, it’s not about the design of a product but about creating computer interfaces that allow users to effectively and efficiently accomplish their goals. Besides, usability engineering links the challenges claimed by the user with often inflexible organizational processes.
Usability lab
A usability lab is a laboratory set up for usability testing. Usually, a usability lab consists of a test and an observation room. The two rooms are either divided through a one-way mirror, or cameras are installed, so people in the observation room can follow the test. The test room is at least equipped with a microphone and a camera that record how the test person interacts with a system. Usability labs can also be equipped with more advanced material such as an eye-tracker.
Use case
A use case describes a very specific interaction between user and system. It usually includes one or more tasks that a user engages in to reach a certain goal. With use cases, common tasks are identified and functionality, usability, and the UX of a system can be tested.
User Centred Design (UCD)
UCD describes the development process of any kind of product or user interface that has its focus on the end user. UCD always starts with a thorough analysis of the needs, expectations and limitations of the user. The design process is iterative and involves repetitive user testing to validate each step of the process.
User Experience (UX)
The UX is the subjective feeling users get when using a product, system, or service. User experiences come from users’ individual perception of different aspects such as appeal, information content, accessibility, credibility, relevance, ease of use, etc. Through a good user experience, you can motivate your users, engage them in actions, make sure they return to your site, and more.
User Interface (UI)
The user interface is the interface of any machine or system the end user interacts with. Through the user interface, the user operates the machine or system and receives feedback over success or failure of the given orders. In order to fulfill the requirements of good usability and a high user experience, a user interface needs to be usable, intuitive and to a certain degree fun to use.
A user is a person who interacts with a product or system. The user can also be called end user because he or she eventually purchases, consumes, and uses a product or system.

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The validity of a research indicates how valid the results are. Valid results are not a matter of interpretation but they are clear and explicit. The validity of a usability test is the extent to which it actually measures what it was intended to measure.

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Web page
A web page can be seen as online document, which makes up one page within a website. A web page is written in HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) or XHTML (eXtensible Hyper Text Markup Language). Markup language is interpreted by browsers and displayed as visual and audible web pages. The actual layout of the web page is defined through CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), scripts, and images. Web pages are linked together through so called hyper links.
A weblog can either be a website itself, or part of one. Weblogs can function as online diaries, or as platforms for marketing reasons and discussions. A blog entry is called ‘blog post’. Usually, new blog posts appear at the very top, pushing older posts further to the bottom of the page. Like other web pages, blogs make use of different content such as text, hyperlinks, pictures, and more. What makes blogs special is their interactive nature. Visitors can react on blog posts by leaving comments.
A website is a collection of linked web pages that offer content in differing digital forms such as text, images, audio or videos files. Every website is assigned to a specific address, the so called Uniform Resource Locator (URL). Through this URL, a website can be accessed via the Internet or other, e.g. local networks. A website is hosted at one or more web servers.
A wireframe shows a user interface in an early and conceptual stage. Wireframes can be simple sketches, or digital drafts. They structure the interface and indicate the positioning and size of navigation and content elements. This early step of the design process is very helpful to test the structure of a user interface at a low level of design and development costs.

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