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Five-Second Tips: Focus — and use the appropriate test format

There are a number of different formats for five-second tests, each of which has its own set of guidelines, limitations and opportunities for customization. Knowing what you want to achieve will help determine which format to use, keep the test focused, and assist in the crafting of the remaining test components.

Memory Dump tests help confirm whether specific design elements stand out, in support of the business goals. Basically, it consists of a series of “what do you remember” questions:

  • “What do you remember most about the page you saw?”
  • “What else do you remember?”

With no targeted questions guiding the responses (as in other test types), responses can be expected to follow a specific pattern of specific-to-general. However, it is important that the test instructions set the proper expectation before the test image is shown – i.e., that participants should remember as much as they can about what they see, and that they will be asked to document the things they remember most vividly.

Target Identification tests focus on specific “targets” in a design. Questions in this type of test directly challenge a respondent’s recall of one or more targets:

  • “Where was the phone number for contacting the call center located?”
  • “Between what hours is phone support available?”

The researcher can learn not just whether a target is noticeable, but also whether specific aspects of that target are memorable. The chances of getting useful results using this format are increased when the test is focused on a singular target.

Attitudinal tests focuses on what people like, believe, or perceive about a design. It is very much in line with traditional survey methodology, in that the data will reveal matters of opinion, such as aesthetic appeal and/or emotional response. Typical questions are:

  • “What word(s) would you use to describe . . . ?”
  • “Rate the overall visual appeal of the design on a scale of 1-10 . . .”

As with other types of surveys, care must be taken with respect to formation of instructions and questions, so as to minimize bias and the reporting of false data.

A Mixed Format test uses components of more than one of the other test formats. Results yielded in a mixed test are likely to be – well, mixed, so these tests need to be very carefully. If the memory of a design is sharpest when the first question is asked, it makes sense to ask a target identification question first, followed by other types of questions. Useful data can be expected for the first 1-2 questions, followed by some likely drop-off as more questions are added. However, in keeping with good research practice, better results will be obtained by creating separate tests for each individual question.

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