Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Taboo Heuristic

A few months ago I came up with a software testing heuristic I thought was useful for me, which I will call the "Taboo Heuristic". Here's how I described it when I emailed James Bach to find out if there was already something like it--or if I had come up with a new test technique. I've modified the original message a bit...

Taboo (avoid the feature) - try to avoid using or finding a certain feature or feature set (while testing the help system or the function itself). Try to find a workaround or another way to accomplish a task. Try other ways of starting a feature. Think of features and buttons and ideas that might be "the wrong track" for a user to go down. Try searching for help without using the feature’s name (play “taboo” with yourself in the help system. Anytime you find the help, exclude the words that worked and try again).

This could be useful for testing feature findability/learnability; for testing help systems and search systems; and for looking for alternate ways to accomplish tasks once we've formed what we think is the "right" model of what users would do. We might find inconsistently named features, or extra choices that confuse users, or another way to accomplish a task (or user workaround) in a useful, surprising, or ordinary way.

This concept comes from a game where you are trying to get your team to say a word without saying the actual word, or a list of related words.

As an example, if you want to preserve a document without saving it, you could try printing, copy/pasting, exporting, and a variety of other things. If you wanted to send an email without the "send" button you might find a second send button you hadn't noticed before, or avoid doing it the fast way using keyboard shortcuts (the way ideal only for power-users).

Some things you can play taboo with include:
* Mouse actions
* Keywords and search terms
* UI elements
* Menus
* Input devices
* etc...

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