Consider the following scenario: You get a flat tire while on the interstate doing 65 miles per hour, you steer the car to the side of the road and while traffic is whizzing inches by you fight to put on your spare. Now consider doing this exact same task in the comfort and safety of your driveway. You're probably thinking ‘apples and oranges', right? Though the task is the exact same for each scenario, the pressures, environment and stress are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Usability testing allows designers an opportunity to assess layouts, workflows, and users expected interactions with a system before sending it to the development team. This process can be fairly straight forward for users accessing the tool in a standard setting, but what about those in high pressure situations or those in highly specialized applications?

Let's replace our tire-changing scenario with one of a more serious nature; a Doctor or a nurse in the middle of surgery. Operating rooms, treatment centers, and even outpatient clinics are all places where timing and measurement can mean life or death. As healthcare facilities push more and more towards adapting electronic healthcare records, we as User Experience practitioners need to be ever vigilant about being mindful of this very unique setting (or any setting filled with stress for that matter!). Usability testing in a sterile environment can skew results to be more positive than they should be; Doctors can focus on the tool rather than the background discussions, the beeping, and the dire nature of the situation. Nurses can hone in on the small print in the drop down to choose which medicine needs to be ordered. Though in the real world, the distractions, the small print, and the situation might all drastically impact the usability of the application.

When assessing the usability of the application, consider these four tips when coming up with your test plan:

  • Have the users list out their job duties and rate their stress level for each. This will help drive discussions on how to create a more realistic test plan (what causes the stress? Is it environmental stress, is it physical stress, is it mental stress, etc.)
  • Conduct a field study to observe and record interactions under different scenarios. Make notes of how you as an outsider would be stressed performing their duties.
  • Develop a test scenario for each type of stress observed or noted.
  • Consider a pilot program prior to releasing the application to the entire organization; this will help fine tune the application under new situations.