Hello & Welcome to Week 9 of Rachael’s Blog. As discussed in previous blogs, there are many different moving parts that go into creating a website. If you are someone who recently graduated from college like me, or just someone who is trying to learn more about web design and development, I invite you to tune into my weekly blogs. This week is focused on usability testing. This aspect of web design can benefit your website greatly, whether you are creating a new website, redesigning a website, or simply trying to make a current website more functional. Usability testing is a very important aspect to consider when it comes to designing a website. Some decide to do it two weeks before a website launches, which is usually a request for a disaster check – people getting nervous and finally deciding to do some testing. Others decide to do it two minds in advance – usually to settle some ongoing internal debates amongst web teams. Usability testing can sometimes settle these arguments, but it usually ends up revealing that these arguments were not important at all.
Other times, marketing people will call for a focus group to be done for their website, when what they really need is usability testing. There is a difference between the two:
- Focus groups are when a small group of people (usually 5 to 10) sit around a table and talk about things, such as their opinions about products, past experiences with them, or their reactions to new concepts. Focus groups are good for getting an idea of a user’s feelings and opinions about things.
- Usability testing is about watching one person at a time try to use something to do typical tasks so you can detect and fix things that confuse or frustrate them.
In usability testing, you actually watch people use things, instead of just listening to them talk about them. Focus groups aren’t great for learning about whether your site works and how to improve it.
A few true things to note about usability testing:
- If you want a great site, you have to test it
- Testing one user is 100% better than testing none
- Testing only one user early is the project is better than testing 50 near the end
It’s said that web development teams should spend one morning a month doing usability testing. If you test 3 users in the morning, you can debrief by lunch, and then can decide what needs to be fixed before the testing is done the following month. Additionally, the ideal number of participants for each round of usability testing is three.
So how do you choose participants? It’s good to do testing with participants who are like the people who will use your site, but the truth is recruiting people from your target audience isn’t as important as it may seem. It’s recommended to use the approach – recruit loosely and grade on a curve. It’s good to try to find users that reflect your audience, but don’t get hung up on it. Loosen up your requirements and make allowances for the difference between your participants and audience. However, if your site requires certain domain knowledge, you’ll need to recruit some people with that knowledge – but they don’t all need to have it. There are some advantages to using participants who aren’t from your target audience:
- It’s usually not a good idea to design a site so that only your target audience can use it
- Were all beginners under the skin
- Experts are rarely insulted by something that is clear enough for beginners
So how do you find participants? A few places to recruit test participants are user groups, trade shows, craigslist, facebook, twitter, customer forums, a popup on your site or even asking friends. Typical participant incentives for a one hour test session range from $50-$100 for average web users to several hundred dollars for professionals.
It’s never too early to start testing. Even before you begin designing your site, it’s a good idea to do a test of competitive sites. This way, you’ll learn a lot about what works and doesn’t work without having to design or build anything. You’ll also want to test a site you’re redesigning before you start, so that you know what’s not working.
A typical one hour test would be broken down into something like this:
- Explain how the test will work so the participant knows what to expect
- The questions
- Ask the participant a few questions about themselves to put them at ease
- The home page tour
- Open the home page and ask the participant to look around and tell you what they make of it. This will give you a good idea of how easy it is to understand your home page.
- The tasks
- This is the heart of the test
- You will watch the participant perform a series of tasks. If you see them stop to think, ask them what they are thinking. Let participants do work on their own, don’t say anything that will influence them.
- After the tasks, ask the participant questions about anything that happened during the test and any questions that the people in the observation room would like to ask
- Wrapping up
- Thank the participant for their help, pay them, and say goodbye.
After each round of tests, you should make time for the team to share their observations and decide which problems to fix. It’s recommended to do this right after you do the tests, while everything is still fresh in the observer’s mind. Usability testing can uncover an abundance of issues, the best advice I can give is focus on fixing the most serious problem first. Here is a suggestive method:
- Make a collective list
- Choose the 10 most serious problems
- Rate them
- Create an ordered list
Overall, if you are creating a new website, redesigning a website, or just trying to make a current site more user friendly, usability testing is something that you would greatly benefit from.