Cockton, G. & Woolrych, A. Sale Must End: Should Discount Methods be Cleared off HCI’s Shelves? Interactions, September+October 2002. 13-18

Interactions’ article is a critical analysis of the so called discount usability methods. By discount methods, the authors mean almost all usability inspection methods that I consider business as usual in industry, i.e. testing with only 3-5 users, heuristic evaluations and cognitive walkthrough. The authors claim that these are tools for startups but I wonder how many large companies do more indepth usability work.

The article identifies three main discounting strategies:

1. Reducing the range of factors considered in the evaluations.

2. Pint sized methods inside a big box. This is the most visible with different expert evaluation methods where the expertise of the evaluator is often more meaningful than the method used.

3. Self-assembly problem sets. Often time is not save by skipping the analysis phase. Instead the analysis task is just transferred to the customer of the evaluation.

The article includes recommendations to HCI field. The recommendations are inline with the critique of the discount methods. However, the authors acknowledge the existence and need for discount usability methods and suggest that discount methods should be improved and ‘real’ methods converted more practical. In addition the article suggests that discount usability methods can be a training tool to show developers that usability work is important.

The key to success with discount usability methods seems to be understanding the risks and shortcomings associated with them. One of the shortcomings according to the authors is that discount methods are unable to address the whole product experience. I’m not quite sure whether any method can do that. At least UX researchers have been unable to create ways to address or even define the whole user experience.