This paper reports the results of a usability experiment that investigated visual query formulation on three dimensions: effectiveness, efficiency, and user satisfaction. Twenty eight evaluation sessions were conducted in order to assess the extent to which query by visual example supports visual query formulation in a content-based image retrieval environment. In order to provide a context and focus for the investigation, the study was segmented by image type, user group, and use function. The image type consisted of a set of abstract geometric device marks supplied by the UK Trademark Registry. Users were selected from the 14 UK Patent Information Network offices. The use function was limited to the retrieval of images by shape similarity. Two client interfaces were developed for comparison purposes: Trademark Image Browser Engine (TRIBE) and Shape Query Image Retrieval Systems Engine (SQUIRE).