Usability Testing and the User-Centered Website

User-centered design means working with your users all throughout the project.”- Donald Norman

Have you ever wondered why you like to use a certain website? Have you ever thought about why you prefer certain websites, such as Apple or Microsoft, over others? The reason that you prefer one website over another is due to usability testing on user-centered websites such as the ones mentioned above. In this article, I will discuss the definition of user-centered design and usability. Also, I will discuss usability guidelines, benefits, and the types of usability testing utilized to measure the effectiveness of user-centered websites..

Definition of User-Centered Design

User-centered design, also known as user-interface and user-experience design, was first coined by Donald Norman, in the 1980’s, and became widely used thereafter. Norman, who wrote the book called The Design of Everyday Things, defined user centered design as “based on the needs of the user, leaving aside what he considers secondary issues like aesthetics.” Also, Norman stated that user-centered design “simplifies the structure of tasks, making things visible, getting the mapping right, exploiting the powers of constraint, and designing for error.”

Definition of Usability

Usability is the measure of how efficient a user-centered website is. Usability describes how effective tools and information sources are in helping users accomplish tasks. The more usable a tool, the better users are able to achieve their goals.  The goal for the web designer is to reduce functional limitations through design. Also, the aim is universal usability, in which the quality of life is improved for many.  Overall, the focus of usability is the user, not the website.

 Usability Guidelines: The Five E’s

The Five E’s, outlined in Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set…Test!, are helpful in planning your usability tests, because each suggests the following specific guidelines (Barnum,12, 13):

  • Effective: Watch for the results of each task, and see how often they are done accurately and completely. Look for problems like information that is skipped or mistakes that are made by several users.
  • Efficient: Time users as they work to see how long each task takes to complete. Look for places where the screen layout or navigation make the work harder than it needs to be.
  • Engaging: Watch for signs that the screens are confusing, or difficult to read. Look for places where the interface fails to draw the users into their tasks. Ask questions after the test to see how well they liked the product and listen for things that kept them from being satisfied with the experience
  • Error Tolerant: Create a test in which mistakes are likely to happen, and see how well users can recover from problems and how helpful the product is. Count the number of times users see error messages and how they could be prevented.
  • Easy to Learn: Control how much instruction is given to the test participants, or ask experienced users to try especially difficult, complex or rarely-used tasks. Look for places where the on-screen text or work flow helps…or confuses them.

 Benefits of Usability Testing

Usability testing allows the design and development teams to identify problems before they are coded (U.S. DHHS, The Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines). The earlier issues are identified and fixed, the less expensive the fixes will be in terms of both staff time and possible impact to the design team’s work schedule.  If you were conducting a usability test you would learn the following beneficial information (U.S.DHHS, The Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines):

  • Learn if participants are able to complete specified tasks successfully and
  • Identify how long it takes to complete specified tasks
  • Find out how satisfied participants are with your Web site or other product
  • Identify changes required to improve user performance and satisfaction
  • And analyze the performance to see if it meets your usability objectives.

The consequences of not conducting a usability test on a website are severe; lack of usability testing can cost time and effort which can affect whether or not a user-centered website succeeds or fails.

Types of Usability Tests

There are three types of usability tests: field, moderator remote, and unmoderated remote. Factors that affect the choice in which you would use either usability tests are time, cost, number of participants, privacy, and control of testing environment (Barnum, 38).  A field test is a usability test in the environment, outside of a laboratory or office.. With a field test, you can leave the office and go where your users are… use a portable lab for a field test (Barnum,38). Another type of usability test is called a remote moderator test, or a synchronous test in which the moderator, test participant, and observers are not physically in the same space (Barnum, 40). In some cases, the observers may be in different locations. Lastly, an unmoderated remote test, or an asynchronous test, is an automated test. Software such as Camtasia Morae and UserZoom, allows the tester to set up predefined questions and surveys during the user’s activities (Barnum, 41).


With the advance of technology, user-centered design with usability testing will be on a steady incline. Ethics is and should continue to be involved in the process. Overall, usability testing on user-centered websites will not go away anytime soon.


Barnum, Carol M. Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set…Test. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2010.

Lynch. P.J., Horton, S. ”Universal Usability.” Web Style Guide.  n.d.  Web. 6 July 2015.

Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic, 2002. Print.

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. “Usability.”The Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines. Enlarged/Expanded edition. Washington: GPO (2006). Web 20 October 2015.