Formative vs. Summative

Do you have that sweet or salty conversation with people?  For your information, I am salty.  If you actually know me, this is not a surprise.  I reading about formative testing versus summative testing, I have been trying to really understand when each is best.  Is this more personal preference on the part of the tester or is it due to the requirements of the client?

Formative testing invites users to talk through choices.  It is useful for its low-tech implementation, and effective for gaining quick insight.  But, there is the challenge of having an intercessor there.  In the end, it is cost-effective, particularly when you don’t have a working prototype.  But, summative testing is useful in seeing if what you have actually works.  Additionally, if done remotely, there isn’t a moderator to intercede.

In terms of personal preference, I really like formative testing, for its mix of qualitative and quantitative data.  But, I also believe that it isn’t really a personal preference thing.  This is not so much if you are inherently sweet or salty, but rather where in the meal you, as a consultant have shown up.  If you are invited at the beginning you get to choose, and you might choose the one that you prefer.  But, often, you show up after the meal has been ordered, and it is already being cooked.  As such, you can taste the soup on the stove, and then offer suggestions for improvement, but you don’t get to say which ingredients shouldn’t go in the pot.  Or more simply,  often, you are going to be invited to look at an interactive or website that is already made, and so summative evaluation is the best choice for the client.

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