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I am doing usability test on a product which I think might have problems with it's search function. I want to test search function with users, but I don't want to restrict user information retrieval methods by adding straight up "use search function" task. But if I make just general information retrieval task, it might end up in a way that hardly anyone uses search. Is there way around this problem?

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Can't you just add some 'test' scenario's in which find the latest X or find a product containing Y is the requested action to complete. They user might start browsing some data or hit the search. If they can't even find the search functionality you've found something important too. –  Barfieldmv Apr 16 '12 at 11:56
    
Are you actually trying to test anything other than search? If search is all you want to test you're going to have to make them search or risk waste a lot of time for you and your participants. –  Ben Brocka Apr 16 '12 at 12:04
    
@Barfieldmv Sorry, I was not completely clear in my question. I think test users are going to find search field just fine. The user group is just so that they might be unwilling to use search and choose browsing instead. –  pekkamo Apr 16 '12 at 12:50
    
@BenBrocka Various things are going to be tested. Search is one of the top priorities. –  pekkamo Apr 16 '12 at 12:53

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you can't isolate the variables within one test, the only real solution is to split it into two tests.

This might be mitigated by doing the user information retrieval test first and seeing if any search feedback naturally falls out from that. If it does, great. Analyze the data and determine if you need more specific testing. If feedback doesn't come from the first test, then you definitely need to move on and conduct the search-specific test.

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I might consider a pre-test survey to collect the participant's predisposition to using search. Something like:

Q. When trying to find information on a website, I commonly use the site's search:

  • After I am unable to find the information on my own
  • I would start by using search to find the information
  • I do not use search on websites

The question above needs phrasing work, but the idea is to get a user gauge on wether or not they're predisposed to searching for content on a website. Then you will know how much you will need to direct them to the task.

Other option is to move towards testing the participant's ability to complete a task. You may want to restate your tasks to: 1) Locating the search function 2) Validating search results compared with participant expectations 3) Filters and advanced search options, etc.

This way the test skews away from "If a member would use the search".

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