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Tips for Hallway Testing from NIH

Over the course of the last year, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has sought to increase its use of usability testing to improve the user experience on our Web resources. To do this, we conducted hallway usability testing10-tips-for-creating-the-perfect-open-opportunity-task/) at the NIH Clinical Center on NLM’s site search feature. Our goal is to update the user interface and improve user satisfaction with results. We set out to learn the specific difficulties and successes users have with our search interface through user testing.

Screen capture of search results for Alternatives to Animal Testing.

To conduct the hallway testing, two staff from NLM’s Web team set up in the lobby of the NIH Clinical Center between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. This is a busy area frequented by researchers, clinicians and patients, all of whom are within the target audience of the NLM’s website. We brought a small folding table, a laptop and three chairs and placed a box of snacks and a Nespresso machine on a nearby table. We posted signs in the lobby advertising a free latte and snack for anyone who had ten minutes to give their opinion about our website. This was our first experience with hallway testing and we found the sessions to be insightful. We learned some valuable lessons about running a successful hallway usability test including:

  • Scope out the space in advance for optimum set-up (adequate room), comfort (noise, temperature) and convenience (power outlet and wireless availability).
  • Have a hook to attract potential participants. Free lattes are a huge draw.
  • Create enticing posters and advertise across a large physical area. Posters can be less intimidating than approaching people when they are trying to get back to work or catch a bus.
  • Smile and look friendly, even if you are nervous. Participants will feel more comfortable approaching you.
  • Be patient. You may be sitting there for a while before participants come to you.
  • Be prepared to deal with more than one participant at a time. Consider having a sign-up sheet with times or multiple testing stations.

    Laptops on a table

  • Let participants lead the way, but be prepared with canned prompts. Sometimes open-ended questions can yield the most meaningful data but you want to have support for a stumped participant.

  • Respect your participant’s time. They’re doing you a favor.

  • Realize that not every participant will provide information that is useful to your project.

  • Be willing to run multiple sessions over a few days. You may not get all the participants that you want or need in your first session.

  • Give yourself a break and bring food and water. Talking, facilitating and note taking require more energy than you think.

  • Rotate between staff after a few sessions so you don’t burn out on facilitating or note taking.

We are currently evaluating the results of our testing and plan on making iterative improvements to our site search feature based on what we learn.

_Katie Chan is a librarian Joanna Widzer is a systems librarian in the Web & Information Management Unit at the National Library of Medicine (NLM)._

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