Formative and Summative Testing

Formative and Summative testing Cheat Sheet


The Common Industry Format (CIF) makes a distinction between “formative” and “summative” usability tests. Formative tests are carried out:


  • During the development of a product;
  • To mould or improve the product;
  • Virtually anywhere (you don’t need a lab);
  • With the test administrator and the participant co-present.


The outputs from a formative test may include:


  • Participant comments in the form of a “thinking aloud” narrative (for example, attitudes, sources of confusion, reasons for actions);
  • Photographs and highlights videos;
  • Usability problems and suggested fixes.


In contrast, summative tests are carried out:


  • At the end of a development stage;
  • To measure or validate the usability of a product;
  • To answer the question: “How usable is this product”;
  • To compare against competitor products or usability metrics;
  • To generate data to support marketing claims about usability;
  • In a usability lab;
  • With the participant working alone.


The outputs from a summative test may include:

  • Statistical measures of usability (for example, success rate, average time to complete a task, number of assists);
  • Reports or white papers.