Glossary: Usability Terminology


Accessibility refers to web page information/content being obtainable and functional to largest possible audience. If a person cannot access a web page he certainly cannot use it. It is about providing access to information for those who would otherwise lose their opportunity to use the web.

Card Sorting
A categorization method where users sort cards depicting various concepts into categories. Index cards indicate a list of all the items to be sorted. Users are then asked to divide the cards into piles of groupings the way they best see a fit. This technique is best used in the early stages of development.

The quality of an interface when it behaves in ways users expect. It means that users can apply the knowledge obtained in some previous experience to enhance current performance.

An eyetracking device observes a person’s pupil to determine the direction of their gaze. It can aid in learning the relative intensity of a user’s attention to various parts of a web page.

Expert Review
An analysis technique for websites and software applications that involves a review by a minimum of 3 experts using a standardized & exhaustive checklist of at least 13 heuristics. After the individual experts are done with their individual evaluation they come together for a close discussion on their score on each heuristics.

Focus Group
An analysis technique that is carefully planned series of discussions designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment (Krueger and Casey, 2000)

Graphical user interface. Pronounced “GOOEY”

Guideline Checklists
Help ensure that usability principles will be considered in a design. Usually, checklists are used in conjunction with a usability inspection method: the checklist gives the inspectors a basis by which to compare the product.

Human Computer Interaction. It is the study of how people relate to electronic tools and interfaces.

Heuristic Evaluation
When a group of usability experts scrutinize a website and evaluate each element of the site against a list of commonly accepted principles. A major drawback of heuristic evaluation is that the experts might not be the real users of the system being evaluated.

Information Horizon
A diagram drawn by users that, based on the Information Horizons theory by Sonnenwald, indicates the different sources of information and the path the user would consider traversing to fulfill an information need.

Information Architecture
The organization of information. This field studies how to organize information most effectively to help people find and use information. It also refers to the structure or organization of a website, especially how pages relate to one another.

Information Retrieval
A diagram drawn by users that, based on the Information Horizons theory by Sonnenwald, indicates the different sources of information and the path the user would consider traversing to fulfill an information need.

Information Visualization
The study of how to effectively present information visually through creating innovative graphical displays for complicated datasets, such as census results, scientific data, and databases. Techniques include selective hiding of data, layering data, 3-dimensional presentation etc.

Iterative design
A process where a web site progressively develops in a repeated cycle. Iteration is repeated revisions.

Liquid Design
A web page designed to re-scales to fit different resolutions and different window sizes.

The process of finding things in large or complex information spaces, such as on websites. Its purpose is to help users find the content they want quickly. There are many navigation methods to make a website easy to navigate.

Paper prototype
A paper sketch of an interface with just enough detail to make design decisions and usability evaluations relating to the function and flow of the interface, not the look.

Pluralistic Walkthrough
When groups of users, developers, and usability experts walk through a task scenario. Group walkthroughs have the advantage of providing a diverse range of skills and perspectives to bear on usability problems through interaction between the team during the walkthrough.

A partially completed mockup of your final website. Prototyping allows you to test certain parts of the final website, especially when it is incomplete. With many sites, this model can be as simple as paper-and-pencil drawings or as complex as actual working code.

Written lists of questions that differ from surveys since they are written lists, not ad hoc interviews. Often, questionnaires are used after sites are launched to assess customer satisfaction with the product. Such questionnaires often identify usability issues that should have been caught before the site goes live.

Rapid Prototyping
The process of quickly generating mock-ups of what a website will look like.

The degree to which the meaning of text is understandable, based on the complexity of sentences and the difficulty of vocabulary.

Ad hoc interviews with users, where a set list of questions is asked and the users’ responses recorded. Surveys differ from questionnaires in that they are interactive interviews, although not structured like contextual inquiries nor formally scheduled and organized like a focus group.

Task Analysis
An analysis technique of tasks performed by users on a system. Task analysis provides a way to take into consideration the environment the user performs tasks in and could range from quantitative to qualitative analysis.

Task Scenario
A representation of actual work that a user would likely perform using a website. Task scenarios are general directions for users to perform certain activities on the application.

Think Aloud
A technique that involves that the user speaks when performing a task. By thinking aloud while attempting to complete the task users explain their approach of attempting to perform the task, hence illuminating the difficulties they encounter.

The art and science of designing systems or web sites. It is different from accessibility that is aimed at making the website open to a much wider user population, whereas usability is aimed at making the website more efficient and more effective to enhance the target audience’s experience.

Usability Lab
A facility specifically for user testing, and can be portable or fixed. It is usually a quiet room with computer equipment and a place for interviewer and interviewee to test, and an observer to sit in the same room or different room equipped for observation remotely or through a one-way mirror. Usability labs are equipped with computers, software for recording the sessions, and cameras.

Usability Testing
The process of carrying out experiments to find out specific information about a design. In usability testing, representative users interact with the website (or a prototype) and the evaluators use the results to see how the user interface supports the users in doing their tasks or activities.

User Centered Design (UCD)
The design process that places the user at the center of the design rather than the object to be designed. It is a philosophy and process rather than an end in itself.

A skeleton version of a website that depicts navigational concepts and page content. It doesn’t take into account the graphics, visual design or page layout. It is a set of cross-linked pages that acts like a functional prototype of the final website.

Overview: Usability at a Glance


What is usability?

Usability testing is a means for measuring how well people can employ a human-made object to achieve a particular goal.

Usability measures the quality of a user’s experience when interacting with a product or system—whether it’s a web site, a software application, mobile technology, or any user-operated device.

In general, usability refers to how well users can learn and use a product to achieve their goals and how satisfied they are with that process. Usability, as defined by Joseph Dumas and Janice (Ginny) Redish, means that people who use the product can do so quickly and easily to accomplish their tasks. Usability may also consider such factors as cost-effectiveness and usefulness.

A key methodology for carrying out usability is called User-Centered Design.

What does usability measure?

It is important to realize that usability is not a single, one-dimensional property of a user interface. Usability is a combination of factors including:

  • Ease of learning – How fast can a user who has never seen the user interface before learn it sufficiently well to accomplish basic tasks?
  • Efficiency of use – Once an experienced user has learned to use the system, how fast can he or she accomplish tasks?
  • Memorability – If a user has used the system before, can he or she remember enough to use it effectively the next time or does the user have to start over again learning everything?
  • Error frequency and severity – How often do users make errors while using the system, how serious are these errors, and how do users recover from these errors?
  • Subjective satisfaction – How much does the user like using the system?
  • (adapted from

Usability Framework

ISO 9241-11 usability framework consists of the users, tasks, equipment (hardware, software and materials), and the physical and organizational environments which may all influence the usability of a product.


Figure: ISO 9241-11 framework

Resources: Usability/UX Community



Writers UA (User Assistance)
The Writers UA conferencefeatures over seventy topics from experts, project demonstrations from other user assistance developers, plus an exhibition of products and services, certificate programs, and networking events
Information Architecture Summit
The Information Architecture Summit is the premier gathering place for information architects and other user experience professionals. The conference has grown into a rich and expanding community of practice shaping and informing multiple disciplines.
Usability Week Conference
The Usability Week Conference, in place of scattered, shallow talks, Usability Week offers up to 6 days of deep learning as international experts lead full-day tutorials on several topics. Course levels range from introductory to advanced; you can sign up for as few as 1 or 2 days or as many as 6.
Web App Summit
Over the four days of Web App Summit, meet innovators and world-class designers behind today’s most successful web apps and come away inspired to create amazing applications.
Americas Conference on Information Systems
AMCIS will bring together the best of academia and industry to focus on the future of Information Systems.
American Society for Information Science and Technology
ASIS&T offers participants the opportunity to explore how information research and practice can promote global communication while maintaining diversity.
Human Factors and Ergonomics Annual Meeting
HFES Annual Meetings are important events for the Society’s members and others who are interested in the latest developments in the field.
International Conference on Information Systems
The annual International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS) is the most prestigious gathering of I/S academics and research-oriented practitioners in the world. The Conference activities are primarily delivered by and for academics, though many of the papers and panels have a strong professional orientation.
SXSW Interactive
The SXSW Interactive Festival features five days of exciting content. Attracting digital creatives as well as visionary technology entrepreneurs, the event celebrates the best minds of emerging technology.
CHI will be the showcase for the technologies, designs and ideas that will form the new world of digital life. There are many exciting new ways in which computing can improve life in many parts of the world.



The ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction brings together people working on the design, evaluation, implementation, and study of interactive computing systems for human use.

Usability Professionals’ Association

The UPA supports those who promote and advance the development of usable products, reaching out to people who act as advocates for usability and the user experience.

Society for Technical Communication

STC is an individual membership organization dedicated to advancing the arts and sciences of technical communication.

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

The mission of HFES is to promote the discovery and exchange of knowledge concerning the characteristics of human beings that are applicable to the design of systems and devices of all kinds.

Association for Information Systems

The Association for Information Systems (AIS) is a professional organization whose purpose is to serve as a global organization for academics specializing in Information Systems.

American Society for Information Science and Technology

ASIS&T is the society for information professionals leading the search for new and better theories, techniques, and technologies to improve access to information.

Web Analytics Association

The Web Analytics Association leads and supports the members by providing quality education, developing standards and best practices, conducting research and advocating for issues that advance the industry.

Interaction Design Association

The Interaction Design Association is a member-supported organization committed to serving the needs of the international interaction design community.


Journal of Usability Studies

The Journal of Usability Studies (JUS) is a peer-reviewed, international, online publication dedicated to promote and enhance the practice, research, and education of usability engineering.

SIGCHI’s Interactions

The magazine is published bi-monthly by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the largest educational and scientific computing society in the world. interactions is the flagship magazine for the ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), with a global circulation that includes all SIGCHI members.

Design Management Review

The Design Management Review explores how design provides long-term competitive advantage in a changing world. Covers design strategy, methods, and leadership, supported by case studies and research.

Usability Interface

Usability Interface is the quarterly publication of the STC Usability and User Experience Community. The purpose of the newsletter is to provide technical communicators with up-to-date and in-depth information on how they can apply usability design and testing techniques to their products.

The UPA Voice

The Voice is a project of the UPA Publications Committee, which includes articles of interest to usability professionals and UPA activities.

UX matters

A Web magazine that delivers compelling content about developing effective user experience (UX) strategies.


Jacob Nielsen’s Use It

This website is a great resource to consult about usability and different methods applied in the field.

Federal Accessibility Guidelines

Federal standards for website accessibility.

User Interface Engineering

User Interface Engineering is a leading research, training, and consulting firm specializing in web site and product usability.

User Experience Network

UXnet creates effective, functional, and strategic networks to enable cross-disciplinary collaboration between user experience professionals.

Boxes and Arrows

Boxes and Arrows is devoted to the practice, innovation, and discussion of design; including graphic design, interaction design, information architecture and the design of business.


Barnum, C. Usability Testing and Research, 2002
Beyer, H. and Holtzblatt, K. Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems, 1998.
Brinck, T., Gergle, D., and Wood, S. D., Usability for the Web: Designing Web Sites That Work, 2002.
Clark, J. Building Accessible Web Sites, 2003.
Dumas, J. and Redish, J. A Practical Guide to Usability Testing, 1993
Farkas, D. and Farkas, J., Principles of Web Design, 2002
Gaffney, G. and Szuc, D.The Usability Kit, 2006
Garrett, J. J., The Elements of User Experience, 2002.
Hackos, J. T. and Redish, J. C. User and Task Analysis for Interface Design, 1998.
Kaushik, A. Web Analytics: An Hour A Day, 2007
Krug, Steve. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. 2005.
Kuniavsky, M. Observing the user experience: A practitioner’s guide to user research, 2003
Mayhew, D. J., The Usability Engineering Life Cycle: A Practitioner’s Handbook for User Interface Design, 1999.
Nielsen, J., Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity, 2000.
Nielsen, J. Usability Engineering, 1993.
Pearrow, M. Web Site Usability Handbook, 2000
Preece, J., Rogers, Y., and Sharp, H., Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, 2002.
Redish, Janice (Ginny), Letting Go of the Words, 2007.
Rosenfeld, L. and Morville, P., Information Architecture, 2002.
Rosson, M.B. and Carroll, J.M. Usability Engineering: Scenario-Based Development of Human-Computer Interaction, 2002.
Rubin, J. Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests. 1994
Snyder, C. Paper Prototyping, The Fast and Easy Way to Design and Refine User Interfaces. 2003
Stone, D., Jarrett, C., Woodroffe, M., & Minocha, S. User interface design and evaluation, 2005.
Thatcher, J, et all. Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance., 2006.
Vredenburg, K, Isensee, S., and Righi, C. User-Centered Design: An Integrated Approach, 2002.
Wood, L. (Ed.), User Interface Design: Bridging the Gap from User Requirements to Design, 1998.

Methods: Evaluation Techniques


The IE lab provides a variety of methods to evaluate web applications. The selection of methods in the evaluation process follows the User-Centered Design approach and is based on our clients’ needs, timelines, budgets, and scopes.

Card Sort
Representative users are asked to categorize system content, providing the design team with user input on how to best structure the system.

What is it? Test subjects use note cards to categorize content areas, providing your design team with input from actual users on how to best structure the site.

When is it used? Creating a new site, implementing new site features, redesigning an existing website

Why is it useful? It provides a good foundation for the system structure. The results will show how your users think the site should be designed and how content should be organized.

Deliverables Card sort report, video clips, category diagram, presentation

Cognitive/Scenario-based Walkthrough
A hypothetical scenario is designed to identify potential system problems and to consider how a typical user might solve them.

What is it? Using industry-accepted usability standards, experts do a “walkthrough” of your site to evaluate the design and functionality Your website is tested using the most common tasks users perform on your website.

When is it used? If you have a complicated website with lots of information and navigation options. Example: Users of your websites do a number of complicated tasks on your website, such as booking airline tickets, reserving hotel rooms, and renting a car.

Why is it useful? It provides much deeper analysis of the usability and functionality of your website. A prioritized task list and focused questions help to reveal complicated problems not readily discovered on the surface.

Deliverables Video slides and the screen shots of the problematic areas of your website in written reports and presentation

Comparative Evaluation
Systems more or less equivalent to the system under review are identified. The systems are compared to see what can be learned from the approaches others take to solve common problems, incorporate needed features, and meet user needs.

What is it? Comparative evaluation looks at the strengths and weaknesses of a site by comparing it to either competitors or a site deemed to be an aspirational benchmark.

When is it used? It is typically used in the beginning of a redesign.

Why is it useful? This method can identify pertinent needs and industry standards.

Deliverables – Side by side screen shots and information architecture of comparative sites.

Expert (Heuristic) Evaluation
The system is evaluated by three or four experts using a standard list of usability heuristics.

What is it? A group of trained usability experts evaluate the website using industry-accepted usability principles.

When is it used? During the early stages of development and/or when there is not enough time to complete more robust evaluation.

Why is it useful? Because it saves time. Our experts can quickly focus on only the most important aspects of your website and any major problem areas. Also, because we use a team of evaluators, you will get several different perspectives, which helps ensure that a broad range of issues are covered.

Deliverables Screenshots with comments of experts, video clips of certain parts of the expert review process, heuristic evaluation scores, final report and/or presentation

Focus Groups
Six to eight representative users are interviewed as a group to provide input on system content, design, or usability.

What is it? A group interview of 6 to 8 individuals who have been identified as a typical users of your website. Together they provide input on your content, design, and usability with observers asking questions and taking notes.

When is it used? When there is a shortage of time, particularly at an initial stage of development.

Why is it useful?- Because it allows a large amount of high-quality feedback to be collected quickly.

Deliverables Video clips and screen shots with written reports and presentations

Information Horizons
A representative user is asked to recall a specific information related activity and to sketch a diagram of his or her subsequent actions towards satisfying the information need.

This is a method developed using the ‘Information Horizons’ theory by Diane H. Sonnenwald (1999) to study user’s information seeking behavior.

The concept of ‘Information Horizons’ takes into account the variety of information resources that are available to a user socially or individually. The theory assumes many solutions and the problem expands from determining the most efficient path to the best solution, to determining how to make solutions visible to an individual(s) (Sonnenwald, 1999).

Profiles of representative users, complete with user name, photo, and information about user goals, motivations, personalities, and attitudes, are created as a means to provide designers with robust information on the individuals for whom the system is being designed.

What is it? Our team creates a fictional profile of your typical user. The profile consists of a variety of fictional personal details including a name, photo, income, education level, personality, and attitudes. This is created as a means to provide you with an better idea about the users for whom the website is being designed.

When is it used? Usually during the early stages of design so that your users’ needs can be integrated into the website more easily.

Why is it useful? The persona profile can help guide design decision making throughout the design process. It can help you better understand your target audience and their needs, and it helps avoid designing a product for non-existent users.

Deliverables Persona artifact

Task Analysis
Identifies users’ overall goals and information needs and models tasks based on these goals as a means to identify points where users fail to achieve goals, spend excessive time, or are made uncomfortable.

What is it? This is the bread and butter of usability in terms of identifying the actual functionality of a site.

When is it used? It is typically used towards the end of a redesign or to identify problem areas on a current site.

Why is it useful? This method is especially useful for identifying first time user’s experience. Often individuals that are familiar with a site forget about the learning curve to locate or to perform actions, and this method can determine the frustration new users who in turn may abandon the site.

Deliverables – Videos, mouse clicks, time on task, qualitative data of user expectations and frustrations.

Sociotechnical Walkthrough (STWT)
Representative (future) users are asked to model together sociotechnical serive or work processes in a series of workshops that are professional facilitated.

For what purposes? Analysis and integration of technology into existing and new work processes (change management), designing together with future users and stakeholders to identify issues such as ‘holes’ in the process. The models will be modeled step-by-step and users indicate strength and weaknesses in the process as a basis to improve the relationship between task, users and technology.

Which problems are addressed? Gaining mutual understanding of service or work processes, identifying problems and adaptions needs, improving reliability and sustainability of service processes, improving commitment and reducing frictions in service or work processes.

When it is used? This method can be used in different project phases: Users’ and decision-makers’ need analysis; for early stage system design and prototyping, during technical system development and for distribution, engagement and training, if the technical system has been built already.

Deliverables: visualized graphical semi-structured process models, focus group video recordings

Think-aloud Interview
Users are asked to give a running commentary on their thoughts as they perform tasks.

What is it? Users are recorded while they use the website and talk through their all thought processes. Usually 5-6 users are tested in separate think-aloud sessions.

When is it used? At any stage of development to get feedback from real users.

Why is it useful? It helps us understand the real behavior and thought processes of actual users. This process helps to reveal any areas of the site which might conflict with the cognitive and behavioral patterns of the users.

Deliverables Video slides and screen shots of the problematic areas of the website with written report and presentation

Web Analytics
Monitors and analyzes your web site traffic.

What is it? Online tools that monitor the traffic on your website. Analytics code is embedded on each page, and it captures information about who is visiting your site, what pages they are visiting, how long they stay on the site, etc.

When is it used? After the site is live to gather real-time data about your users.

Why is it useful? Web Analytics help to can help you tailor your site to the specific users of your site. Using this information will help you make better decisions about changes or design upgrades that will improve your targeted users’ experience.

Deliverables Video slides and screen shots of the problematic areas of the website with written report and presentation