Traditional usability testing has become widespread in web and software development. Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation (RITE) offers an alternative to typical approaches: instead of a testing a single prototype, RITE allows for updates to the stimulus in between sessions. While RITE certainly helps improve the UI quickly, it has another key benefit: team engagement.
by Jim Kalbach
Usability testing has become standard fare for most serious web and software development efforts over the last decade or two. The overall intent of testing is to reduce the risk of finding usability errors after product is launched. The typical “over-the-shoulder” method has served this purpose well. With this, stakeholders get a well-prepared report with a prioritized list of issues and a wealth of recommendations. All good and fine.
An alternative approach is Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation (RITE). This is also a lab-based method, but with an important difference to typical tests: the prototype is iteratively evaluated and updated between session. So, you not only identify problems but also test the proposed solutions.
This method was formalized about a decade ago by researchers at Microsoft, most notably Dennis Wixon. In their original paper on the approach, the researchers focus on the key benefit of improving product design:
The goals of the RITE method are to identify and fix as many issues as possible and to verify the effectiveness of these fixes in the shortest possible time. These goals support the business reason for usability testing, i.e. improving the final product as quickly and efficiently as possible. The results presented here suggest that at least in the context of its use for the Age of Empires II tutorial, the RITE method was successful in achieving its goals.
What’s more, RITE is fast: the method compresses testing, problem identification and design fixes into a short period. This is good argument to make on any project.
But there’s an additional key benefit that’s not so immediately noticeable: team engagement. RITE tests bring team members and stakeholders together. They then collectively solve design-related problems in real time — right in the observation room.
There are several advantages to this type of heightened team engagement:
- Common language: Collaboration during RITE tests gives rise to a common language for describing design problems and their solutions. Whether speaking about a element or overall flow, teams develop a way of describing things, which brings a certain efficiency to subsequent discussions.
- Shared references for decision-making: Witnessing users struggle using a product provides a shared reference. When updating the design, this common experience provides a center of gravity for decision making. This shared reference is typically more immediate and longer lasting than typical usability reports, for instance.
- User-centered: Perhaps most important, the users are the center of attention during the whole process. Stakeholders and other team members, who may not have regular contact with users, get a chance to view users first hand. This builds empathy for users throughout the team.
We regularly use RITE at USEEDS°, particular for projects with large teams and with critical design challenges. In our experience improving the UI design quickly is only half of the benefit of RITE. Equally important is the type of engagement we get from RITE.
Inviting different types of stakeholders is important to make this happen. We strive to include everyone from developers to marketing to project sponsors. Although this makes raises the potential of a “design by committee” effect (which is generally unadvisable), we’ve found it lowers the chance of design decisions being overturned later.
So, consider RITE for projects where it’s appropriate. Below are some resources to learn more:
- “Getting Software RITE,” by Jeff Patton (2008)
- “The Power of Doing It RITE,” by Nick Leggett
- “RITE,” presentation by Dennis Wixon et al. on Slideshare (2007)
- “Evaluating Usability Methods,” by Dennis Wixon in interactions (2003) [password/fee required]
 Medlock, M.C., Wixon, D., Terrano, M., Romero, R., and Fulton, B. (2002). Using the RITE method to improve products: A definition and a case study. Presented at the Usability Professionsals Association 2002, Orlando Florida.