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An Empirical Study of Thinking Aloud Usability Testing from a Cultural Perspective

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Usability evaluation methods are widely used to assess and improve the user interface design.This dissertation investigates the thinking aloud usability testing from a cultural perspective. Ina test situation, representative users are required to verbalize their thoughts as they perform theirtasks while using the system, and an evaluator observes the user’s task performance and comesup with usability problems. The primary goal of a usability test is to find a list of usabilityproblems.In this research, the impacts of evaluators’ and users’ cultural backgrounds on both the resultand the process of the thinking aloud usability testing were investigated. Regarding the results ofthe usability testing, the identified usability problem was the main focus, whereas for the processof testing, the communication between users and evaluators was the main focus.In this dissertation, culture was regarded as cognitive styles and communication orientations.For the theories of thinking aloud, both Ericsson and Simon’s classic model, and Boren andRamey’s revised model for usability testing were taken into account. Based on the culturetheories and thinking aloud models, hypotheses were developed to investigate the evaluators’identified usability problems in different cultural settings, and themes were put forward toinvestigate the evaluators’ and users’ communications.In order to investigate the hypotheses and themes, an experimental study was conducted. Theexperimental design consisted of four independent groups with evaluators and users from similaror different cultures (Danish and Chinese). Empirical data were collected by using backgroundquestionnaires, usability problem forms, usability problem lists, video recordings of the testingand interviews. The usability testing software “Morae” was used to record the whole testing,including the faces of the evaluators and users, the screen and keyboard activities. Evaluators’and users’ communications were analyzed by the behavioural coding and analysis software“Observer XT 8.0” with a well defined coding system.The results of the systematic study of the thinking aloud usability testing in the context of theintra- and inter-cultural usability engineering show that the evaluators’ cultural backgrounds dohave some influences on the usability testing; however, the influences are different for the testswith Western and East Asian users. The main findings of this research have implications for bothusability research and practice. The methodological approach also gives inspiration for usabilityevaluation studies

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Qingxin Shi

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