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City of Alexandria, VA City of Alexandria, VA
GIS & Maps
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Page updated Jun 16, 2014 1:55 PM

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Usability Testing for New Interactive Maps

The City of Alexandria is in the early stages of updating its online system of interactive maps to be more meaningful, usable, and interactive for the community. Part of this early phase involves conducting usability testing – a technique for evaluating a product by testing it on a representative group of potential users.

  1. What is usability testing?
    Usability testing is a technique used to evaluate a product by testing it on people representative of those who are going to use it – we call these people "users." This is a valuable practice for developers like us because we get direct input on how real users will use what we’ve designed.
  2. Why are we conducting usability testing?
    By asking a range of users to test the our new Interactive Mapping Tools, we will be able to identify and address sources of confusion and errors in its design that we might otherwise miss. By avoiding costly fixes, usability testing reduces the overall cost of a custom application like this, especially when performed early in the development process (as is the case here). In addition, by increasing user satisfaction, we hope to extend the life of the Interactive Mapping Tools, and thereby lower the replacements costs.
  3. What does the process entail and how much time will it take?
    The process consists of a short usability test on the computer (approximately 20 minutes per user). While the user is navigating through our Interactive Mapping Tool, the person conducting the testing will take notes on all of the questions, processes, steps taken, search terms, methods, devices, and order of control exploration. The goal is to understand how the design of these interactive maps can best serve the needs of those who will use it. The experience is very relaxed because usability testing is focused on testing the application, and not the user.
  4. What is a Prototype?
    For these purposes, a prototype is an early model of a website, built in hours using rapid application development tools (in this case, Latitude Geographics' Geocortex) instead of months of expensive programming tools and techniques. Geocortex is flexible and extensible and the City of Alexandria ITS Applications staff will modify and add tools and modules to resolve usability issues encountered during testing, where most impactful and feasible.
  5. When and where will testing be held?
    Opportunities for community participation will be available at various times and locations throughout the city (e.g., libraries, rec/community centers). Please visit the website ( for details.
  6. What kind of tester are you looking for?
    To ensure that we address all possible issues that may come up with the design and content, we hope to get participation from a wide spectrum of testers. Some key characteristics of users we want to test include people who are non-technical, technical, curious, creative, map lovers, those with a GIS background, and those who might not find maps particularly useful. We also want to ensure that the usability testers are people of various genders, ages, education levels, and skill sets.
  7. Will the testing be anonymous and how will the results be calculated?
    The testing will be anonymous. Initially, we will collect qualitative data derived from our observations, but ultimately we hope to quantify our results. The detailed data we collect will be stored and anonymized in an internal data file.  


Questions? Contact Katherine Carraway, 703.746.3855,


123 N. Pitt St., Suite 250
Alexandria, VA 22314
FAX: 703.838.4118

Office Hours:
Monday - Friday
8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.