What is Hallway Usability Testing?

We’ve had a great response to OpenHallway since our launch three weeks ago!  Over the last few weeks, it’s been interesting to interact with with users and to find out that the concept of Hallway Usability Testing is not really well-known in the web development community.  So, I wanted to put together just a couple of references on Hallway testing and where we stumbled upon it.  We’re big fans of using Ruby on Rails and we stick to an agile development philosophy.  Being big believers in usability testing and fancying ourselves decent UX folks, we were surprised to see that there wasn’t much buzz at all in the Rails community for usability testing in general.  Just from a few discussions with some major players in the Rails world, we seriously wondered how many shops like ours were performing usability tests.  Before we built OpenHallway, we set out to do a bit of research on how we could fit usability testing into our own agile development process.  When we read about Hallway Testing, we loved it because it fit into our flow, and it came naturally to how we work.  Hallway testing is about testing the code you just wrote by “grabbing someone from the hall” and sitting them down to try out what you just built.

The Wikipedia entry for usability testing mentions Hallway Testing this way, “Hallway testing (or hallway usability testing) is a specific methodology of software usability testing. Rather than using an in-house, trained group of testers, just five to six random people, indicative of a cross-section of end users, are brought in to test the software (be it an application, web site, etc.); the name of the technique refers to the fact that the testers should be random people who pass by in the hallway. The theory, as adopted from Jakob Nielsen’s research, is that 95% of usability problems can be discovered using this technique.”  Since “bringing in” testers into our office was a hurdle for us, we decided to make a web application that would enable us to do usability testing remotely. We didn’t set out to be consultants or to claim we are usability experts, we just wanted a tool to give us quick usability feedback.

Joel Spolsky’s blog “Joel on Software” mentions it this way, “A hallway usability test is where you grab the next person that passes by in the hallway and force them to try to use the code you just wrote. If you do this to five people, you will learn 95% of what there is to learn about usability problems in your code.”

So there you go, a short primer on Hallway Usability Testing and how we got started.  It works for us, we hope it works for you too.

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