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Success Rate:
The Simplest Usability Metric
Jakob Nielson & Raluca Budiu, Nielsen Norman Group, Reading time: about 6 min

In addition to being expensive, collecting usability metrics interferes with the goal of gathering qualitative insights to drive design decisions. As a compromise, you can measure users' ability to complete tasks. Success rates are easy to understand and represent the UX bottom line.

Numbers are powerful (even though they are often misused in user experience). They offer a simple way to communicate usability findings to a general audience. Saying, for example, that "Amazon.com complies with 72% of the e-commerce usability guidelines" is a much more specific statement than "Amazon.com has great usability, but it doesn't do everything right."

Metrics are great for assessing long-term progress on a project and for setting goals. They are an integral part of a benchmarking program and can be used to assess if the money you invested in your redesign project was well spent.

Unfortunately, there is a conflict between the need for numbers and the need for insight. Although numbers can help you communicate usability status and the need for improvements, the true purpose of a user experience practice is to set the design direction, not to generate numbers for reports and presentations. Thus, some of the best research methods for usability (and, in particular, qualitative usability testing) conflict with the demands of metrics collection.

The best usability tests involve frequent small tests, rather than a few big ones. You gain maximum insight by working with 4–5 users and asking them to think out loud during the test. As soon as users identify a problem, you fix it immediately (rather than continue testing to see how bad it is). You then test again to see if the "fix" solved the problem.



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