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Companies Test-Drive their Technology at Bentley's DUTC

December 31, 2001

We've all had the experience: you spend some time on a company's e-commerce web site - maybe looking to purchase books for a class or a new filing cabinet. You finally find what you want, select it, proceed through the checkout process, fill in your credit card number and then¿ nothing. You hit reload to see if maybe your information didn't input correctly, and get a strange error message. Frustrated, you leave the web site, not sure if you actually purchased your book or cabinet or not.

This is Bill Gribbon's idea of a usability nightmare. And he is working to make things like this happen less frequently on the Internet and when people are using other types of technology.

Bill Gribbons is founder of the Design and Usability Testing Center here at Bentley. Usability testing is the process by which a company tests their product - an e-commerce web site, a software program, etc. - to see how easy it is for the customer to use. The DUTC, located on the second floor of the Smith Technology Center, allows companies to conduct these tests in a private atmosphere using state-of-the-art technology and evaluation procedures. It also allows Bentley graduate students in the MS in Human Factors and Information Design (MSHFID) program to test their skills as consultants to the companies using the DUTC.

The testing center consists of three rooms - a small, comfortable room where up to three users can try out the product, a classroom for larger groups of testers and focus groups, and the observation room which contains the mechanisms for recording the sound, picture and computer screen of the test participants.

The testing process begins months before the product is released to the market. When the test participants come to the center, they are given a series of tasks to perform using the product. For an e-commerce site, for example, they may be given the instructions to find and purchase a particular product. The consultants can then observe and record the user as he/she progresses through the web site. They observe everything from the search terms a user selects to find a product to how he/she navigates the site.

This information is collected from a number of users and then analyzed for patterns of behavior. When the analysis is complete, the company walks away with a 30-40-page report with recommendations on how to make their product design (web site, software, etc.) more usable.

The price for this type of consulting is not cheap. Bill said two days of testing in the center could run from $10-15,000. He said, however, that this can save a company thousands of dollars in the long run, by concentrating development time, reducing support costs, and building user acceptance through a more usable product.

"For a lot of these businesses, the competition is just a click away," Bill explains. "If people don't have a good experience on your e-commerce site, they will go somewhere else."

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit www.bentley.edu

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