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Five-Second Tips: An Introduction

Spend a little time taking some random tests on this site, and you’ll see that people are using the Five-Second Test to evaluate all sorts of designs in all sorts of ways. This has given design and UX pros a valuable addition to their testing toolkit, but has also introduced a lot of room for error in how tests are designed.

The earliest instances of the test as a UX technique can be traced back about 15 years ago, to the collaborative efforts of Jared Spool, Christine Perfetti, and Tom Tullis. Their original guidelines limited the test’s use within a fairly narrow set of use cases, and always within a controlled and moderated environment.

I became a UsabilityHub customer in 2008 and quickly became an enthusiastic advocate of the site. Creating and distributing Five-Second, Click and Navigation tests became my preferred way of settling inter-office squabbles (I called them ‘bar bets’) before putting designs in front of users for more formal testing – and accumulating Karma points made me feel as though I was returning the favor for all of the feedback I’d received for my own work.

However, as I started taking the tests of others, it quickly became clear that something was amiss. In test after test, I found myself reluctantly answering questions with “I don’t know” responses – which led me to suspect that my own tests were probably not as good as they could be. Looking for answers, I found precious little information available about getting the most out of the technique using online, unmoderated sites and tools.

Convinced there was a better way, I set out to examine the method more closely and devise a set of guidelines for testers, which resulted in my book, The UX Five Second Rules. In upcoming posts, I will offer tips and tricks for creating great online five-second tests, discuss what types of tests are (and are not) conducive to testing in this way, and present specific strategies for designing tests that provide useful and usable data.

Posts will come every few weeks, so check back often. The Five-Second Test offers a wealth of UX data, if you know what and how to ask.

Written by

A graduate of Bentley University’s HFID master’s program, Paul Doncaster has spent his career working on highly-complex UX projects within the domains of course technology, legal and intellectual property.

He has written and spoken on many UX topics, including designing for emotional response, online readability, designing for tablet users in the legal domain -- and of course, the Five-Second Test.

Twitter: @UX5SecondRules

The UX Five Second Rules is available at the Elsevier Publishing Online Store or online at