Design and usability methods and techniques

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This article will attempt to summarize major User interaction and user interface design, user experience design and usability methods and techniques.

In general, usable designs are created using some kind of user-centered design (UCD) methodology.

A table and list of design and usability methods

We could organize design and usability methods according to stages of the design process. We decided to make a simple table that rather represents tasks than stages. E.g. one design process could (a) start by planning, (b) go on with the analysis of the existing and/or of other's design, (c) move to a design phase producing various prototypes that (d) need to be tested. Another process could start by analyzing the existing. We argue for a user-centered design method, e.g. a participatory design cycle that looks like this:

Typical participatory user-centered design cycle

The following table roughly organizes various methods according to design and evaluation tasks. Entries will be added over time and I may change its organization again.

Table of popular design and usability methods
Method/Tool Problem analysis &
Design tasks &
System analysis &
evaluation & testing tasks
Card sorting and Affinity diagrams X X x
Contextual inquiry X
Focus group X
Scenarios of use and Personas x X
use cases and use case modeling X x
Task analysis X
Storyboarding X
Sketching user experience x X
Wireframing X
Guidelines-based review and Heuristic evaluation x X
Pluralistic walkthrough and Cognitive walkthrough X
Usability and user experience surveys X
Usability testing (design and interaction testing) X
Field observation x X

Other taxonomies of design and usability methods

Below, we reproduce some taxonomies that gave us inspiration. All of these are linke to the original site and that also include further information about each method...

Usability Net provides a nice interactive methods table leading to articles of which we reproduce a cropped screen copy below:

Methods table, Copyright 2006, retrieved 18:43, 3 March 2011 (CET). Reproduction permitted provided the original source is acknowledged. - managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - presents a similar table leading to articles. It organizes usability methods according to where they take place in the user-centered design process.

Source:, retrieved 18:43, 3 March 2011. Go [1] for clickable links !

This website also provides a step-by-step visual map for guidances through the user-centered design process. We show a screen copy below:

Step-by-Step Usability Guide by, captured March 2011.

The Nasa usability toolkit includes a (by default copyright-free) table that also is organized by stages.

Tool / Method Requirements & Planning Stage Conceptual Design Stage Test & Evaluation Stage Resources Required Purpose of Method
Brainstorming X LOW Generates design ideas
Card sorting X X LOW Helps structure interface content
Cognitive walk through X X MEDIUM Checks structure and flow against user goals
Context of use analysis X LOW Specifies vital user and product characteristics
Contextual inquiry X MEDIUM Provides information about users' work context
Focus group X LOW Elicits user requirements/views through discussion
Functionality matrix X X LOW Specifies functions required to support tasks
Heuristic evaluation X X LOW Provides expert feedback on user interfaces
Interactive prototyping X MEDIUM/ HIGH Used for testing with users
Interview techniques X X LOW Provides detailed user experience about product usage
Observation X MEDIUM Describes user activity in detail
Paper prototyping X MEDIUM Tests design ideas with users
Parallel design X HIGH Provides one conceptual design idea from several
Participatory evaluation X X MEDIUM Detects task-related usability problems early in design
Rapid prototyping X MEDIUM Allows users to visualize future systems and evaluate
Scenarios X X MEDIUM Illustrates requirements and supports conceptual design
Storyboarding X MEDIUM Visualizes relationship between events and actions
Surveys X X HIGH Provides mass data from users
Task analysis X MEDIUM Analyses current user work in depth
User-based testing of design X MEDIUM Provides recommendations for how a design can be improved.
User-based testing of interaction X HIGH Measures usability and identifies interaction problems
WAMMI - Web site X LOW Provides an objective way of assessing user satisfaction
Wireframes X LOW Fast and easy concept prototyping that focuses on layout, navigation and high level content

Usability Body of Knowledge includes a the following list of articles: Affinity Diagramming, Brainstorming, Card Sorting, Checklist, Claims Analysis, Context of Use Analysis, Contextual Inquiry, Critical Incident Technique (CIT), Cultural Probe, Diary Study, Ethnography, Field Study, Focus Group, Formative Evaluation, Free Listing, Function Allocation, Heuristic Evaluation, Metaphor Brainstorming, Parallel Design, Phone Interview, Photo Study, Pluralistic Usability Walkthrough, Rapid Prototyping, Rating Scales, Storyboard, Wireframe, Wizard of Oz.


Standalone introductions

Indexes and catalogs

This section includes important and useful bundles of short tutorials, encyclopedias and websites with rich links. Last verified on March 2011. Best entry points for quick reading about specific design and usability methods. I suggest consulting at least two or three of these sites - 00:42, 12 March 2011 (CET).

  • Usability Testing Toolkit: Resources, Articles, and Techniques A really good list of websites, online tools and software by Cameron Chapman, Smashing Media GmbH, retrieved March 2011.
  • A-Z of user experience design resources by Dey Alexander Consulting. The many entries include good (described) links to important articles and tools
  • Fluid Design Handbook is a How-to Guide filled with user-centered design (UCD) techniques you can use to learn from your users and design better user experiences.
  • Common Ground (1999), A Pattern Language for Human-Computer Interface Design, by Jeniffer Tidwell. A newer version is available at, a support site for the author's O'Reilly book. A still newer version is in preparation as of March 2011. Design patterns rely on the concept that there exist proven design patterns (for given problems) that work.
  • Usability Methods toolbox by James Hom (1998). This web site includes both short tutorials for various inquiry, inspection, testing and design methods plus links for further reading.
  • Usability Methods from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. It lists 13 most important methods tabulated with design stages. More importantly, the site also includes one of the most authoritative Web design and usability guidelines
  • Usability Methods at is a smaller list of short tutorials on most popular usability methods.
  • Usability Evaluation at includes a list of usability evaluation methods, grouped in testing, inspection and inquiry. Each is described with a short tutorial.
  • Methods table (2006). This interactive sorted table at points to 40 popular design and usability methods tutorials.
  • Usability resources. A list of resources, articles and do-it-yourself materials for those interested in usability and the user experience (from a down-under company).
  • All UX evaluation methods at All about UX. The list quite long and in particular includes many entries related to affect and emotion, but entries are fairly short.
  • The Ultimate Usability Resource Roundup: 60 Great Posts, Jacob Creech on Sept. 2011
  • Design Method Toolkit for agile, team-based projects from MediaLab, Amsterdam (retrieved 7/2016).

On-line tools and usability services

(last checked on feb 2011, various design and usability method's articles may have additional ones ...)

  • Usability Scorecard (
  • (for $39 hire a visitor that will send you a video message with problems found)
  • Quote: "We video people using your website so you can see how to improve the user experience" (£ 30 and up).
  • Get heat map analytics (starting at $20/month)
  • provides a questionnaire service (you submit questions and then get answers from 10 users, a questions test is $15)
  • WebSort enables you to conduct remote card sorting online. (one free study, 10 participant limit)
  • Landing page optimization for your mocks and wireframes. (commercial, but you can do tests to earn tests)
  • Usabilla Quote: "Ask your users simple questions to collect valuable feedback and discover usability issues. Use our One-Click-Tasks to measure task performance. Users simply share their feedback by clicking anywhere on your website, mockup, sketch, or image. Measure time, collect points, and get valuable feedback with notes." (commercial, free signup allows for 1 active public test with 10 participants).
  • VerifyApp. You can create tests with screenshots of new designs or wireframes for your site, but you can also capture from an existing site, or pull a screenshot straight from Notable. Several tests are implemented but, sorry, no list. I won't suffer watching a video instead of reading a short feature list....
  • Notable allows people to give feedback on design, content and code an any page of a website or application. (Capture with a firefox extension, upload jpg, type in URL, capture iPhone/Touch)
  • Google WebSite Optimizer. Google’s free website testing and optimization tool, allows you to increase the value of your existing websites and traffic. (free service). This tool works in similar way as Google Analytics.
  • Markup Allows to markup web pages for analysis and discussions. Both text and doodle.

See also web wireframe for wireframing tools

Excel workbooks and word processor forms


Collections and indexes
Interview transcriptions
Usability testing

There exist many tools, some expensive and some less. The "grand daddy" (and still popular) tool is the commercial Morae, suite of three usability tools (recorder, observer and manager) by TechSmith ($2000 total/1/2015, some educational discount available). It includes Camtasia Studio and Snaggit.

Simple screen and user capture
  • Silverback. A Mac OS X application: Screen capture, video of tester's face + voice, on-the-fly chapter markers, ... result is a *.mov composite. (30 days trial).
  • BB FlashBack Express
  • CamStudio Quote: "is able to record all screen and audio activity on your computer and create industry-standard AVI video files and using its built-in SWF Producer can turn those AVIs into lean, mean, bandwidth-friendly Streaming Flash videos (SWFs)" (open source). Software is also available from

(Some links within these lists may be broken ...)

Various articles