So often when we design and build our business websites (or prototypes or mobile apps) we build them to our own taste. We use the elements WE like, the colours we prefer and the layout that makes sense for us. After that, we MIGHT think about the people who will be using the thing we are creating and what might make sense to them. We may consider our existing clients or even the Average Web User at this point (although in my experience this happens about a quarter of the time). However, according to Steve Krug (in Don’t Make Me Think), this average user is a myth. We are all so very different.
So today I am going to try and offer another way of looking at this, from a usability point of view.
Everyone who has spent any time on the interweb has an opinion on what is good or bad on a website. Based on their own likes and dislikes of course. Right now I am sure you can give me at least one example of something you HATE when you encounter it on a website – from those annoying looping GIFs to too many advertisements in the content, from flashing banners that give you a headache to drop-down navigation menus and bothersome popups. There is no shortage of things to choose from.
So during development you might decide to consult with a specialist to get really clear on what should appear where on your home page, and hear all about the good, bad and ugly on the world wide web. Of course this is an important step, especially before you get to far along the development path. Its just as important as checking your grammar and spelling in your content. But its not the end of the process.
What we should also be thinking about is “does this [element] with these items and this wording in this context on this page create a good experience for most people who are likely to use this site?” And more importantly, how will we know?
To get answers to this question we need to be doing Usability Testing. Not market research or focus groups – whilst these are important activities they really need to happen before you START to build your site or app, to make sure you are meeting a need or solving a problem for people in theory. If not, is there even any point to what you are doing?
But I digress. Usability testing is not about asking a bunch of people a whole lot of questions – no the idea is to rather ask people to perform certain tasks on your site, and then watch and see how easily and well they can execute them without getting frustrated or confused. That is the research you need to be doing.
According to Mr Krug 3 things are true about usability testing:
- If you want a great site, you’ve got to test. Its no good you test your own site, you know what you are trying to do and where everything is. Get a fresh brain and pair of eyes on the problem – let somebody else have a look and a poke around.
- Testing one user is 100 percent better than testing none. Even the worst test with the wrong user will give you valuable info.
- Testing one user early in the project is better than testing 50 near the end. A simple test early on is often better than an expensive, elaborate test later on (one that we know will probably never happen anyway).
He also goes on to say that “it’s never too early to start. Even before you begin designing your site, for instance, it’s a good idea to do a test of competitive sites. They may be actual competitors, or they may just be sites that have the same style, organization, or features that you plan on using. Bring in three participants and watch them try to do some typical tasks on one or two competitive sites and you’ll learn a lot about what works and doesn’t work without having to design or build anything.”
Although I often tell my clients that a website is not fixed in stone, and you can always make changes later on (all true) it does become more tricky and potentially costly to make major changes once the site is live (like the entire look and feel for example). So any mistakes you can correct early on in the development process can potentially save you time and money down the line – you really do need to focus on fixing the most serious usability problems first.
Alternatively if you would prefer not to have to annoy friends or family you might opt to use something like http://peek.usertesting.com/. They offer a free service where a real person tests your site, or app, for 5 minutes and records their findings as they go through it. Very valuable.
Lastly, of course, we also offer a website review service – so feel free to contact us about that too.
This is really a brief overview. For more detail on how to actually perform usability tests in your organisation, sample facilitation scripts and other resources I do recommend these 2 Steve Krug books (affiliate links):