Until an application has undergone user testing, it is not possible to confidently say whether or not it is truly effective and useful. User testing can provide insights into how people may use a system, in contrast to how you may envisage them using it. Those who develop a system may find it easy to use and understand because they have been using it over the period it was developed, and thus are unable to give an unbiased evaluation of a system. They are too familiar with it.
In a user test a number of people, representative of the final intended users of an application, use it and give feedback. Usually, they will be observed and asked questions to determine if the design of an application is logical, understandable and usable, and if there were any flaws and inconsistencies.
The main motivation for user testing this system was to evaluate the desirability of a pen-based formula entry system: to see if it is something that people would want and use over existing systems, such as command-string or template-based editors. It also provided the opportunity to see how people found the user interface ideas: the modify stroke groups with a squiggle select and the pop up menu for overriding the character recogniser. It also provided the opportunity to gather data on the accuracy of the new stroke grouping algorithm and the performance of a graph rewriting formula parser on handwritten input.
This chapter discusses aspects of conducting user testing: designing the test, choosing participants, ethical considerations, running the test itself and the post-test analysis. This chapter also discusses usability inspection, another method for evaluating user interfaces.