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Formative and Summative Usability Testing

Formative testing and summative testing are methodologies used in the discipline of usability. Admittedly, I’ve never had a usability mentor or worked in an organization that had a formal usability program, and so I was unfamiliar with these terms and how to apply them. A little research reveals, not surprisingly, that these methodologies are not clear cut and distinct from one another.

Here are a few samples of how the experts have described formative testing:

Ruben and Chisnell (2008) say we do formative studies to “examine the effectiveness of preliminary design concepts” (location 924).

Usabilitybok.org (n.d.) gets slightly more specific, stating that the goal of formative testing is to “detect and eliminate usability problems” during an iterative design and development process (para. 1).

Michael Hawley (2010) is consistent with Ruben and Chisnell when he associates formative testing with assessing the “overall user experience” and understanding…

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