Archive for November, 2009
If you define it as “capable of being used” the implication is, you can either use something, or not. Pretty cut and dry.
Ah, but there’s more to it. A car, for instance, can operate perfectly fine; or it can start and stall and start up again. While you can still use the vehicle, it’s hardly an ideal ride.
Same goes for a web site — your preference is for a smooth experience.
But how do you know if your web site is a well-oiled machine rather than a clunker? Not by looking, that’s for sure.
You are not the target audience
Having what appear to be the right elements does not ensure your site offers an ideal user experience; as in, it’s easy to use and intuitive.
The sticky wicket here is, because you created the site, it all makes perfect sense. Your judgment is clouded by already knowing what everything means and how everything is supposed to work.
News flash: You are not the target audience — web visitors ultimately decide if a site works. If they stall out, they’re apt to go elsewhere.
The do-it-yourself method to web usability testing
You can spend a lot of money to hire someone to conduct usability tests of your web site where techniques may involve sophisticated labs and analysis. That’s great if you can afford it. Budgets, however, often don’t allow for the expense.
Still, it’s important to do some kind of usability testing prior to launch. You didn’t put up a site just for show, right? You want it to deliver the goods; tell your story, sell your product or service; in a way that’s meaningful and satisfies website visitors.
The good news is, you (yes, you) can do a decent job of usability testing for low or no cost. You don’t even have to test a lot of people. Patterns in response arise after questioning five to eight individuals.
Notice I said individuals. The best way to do this is one person at a time; where the participant is comfortably sitting at a computer while you’re observing how they use and perceive the site. Groups or even two people at once are not as accurate because one person will influence the other(s). It’s not intentional on anyone’s part, even so, that’s what happens. One at a time, got it?
Also, if you have a few target audiences, or personas, as is now the popular parlance, test five per persona. Each group has different expectations — you want to see if the site satisfies these varied wants and needs.
When soliciting volunteers — yes, many will do this for free, just ask — indicate you’re looking for feedback on a web project. As opposed to saying you’re doing usability testing. Testing implies there are right/wrong answers and the word usability is not commonly understood.
The key is to ask open-ended questions
To prepare for testing create a set of questions. You can have a pre-determined order, however, you are also reacting to feedback, so be flexible — better to ask questions in a way that makes sense for how your test is going rather than stick to a rigid scheme. The main thing is to reiterate there are no right or wrong responses, and you must ask non-leading open-ended questions.
The response may or may not have to do with design. That’s fine. You’ll find out what people think from a variety of perspectives — extremely valuable information. This will also open up other avenues for questioning.
If, after asking, “What is your impression of this site?” the reply is, “I like it.” Then you go, “Why?” On the other hand, if the response is “It’s confusing,” ask “How so?”
More good questions:
- What do you think this site is for? Why do you think so?
- Who do you think would use this site? Why?
- What kind of product/service do you think is being offered? Why?
- What do you think this button/link is for?
- What do you like best/least about the site?
- If you could improve one thing about the site what would it be?
Don’t take it personally
Take notes. Stay objective. Remain neutral regardless of feedback — never argue with, praise or help the participant. Do not explain why something is the way it is. You’re looking to extract information. If a person asks “What’s this for?” respond, “What do you think it’s for?
You can ask participants what they think a particular button or link is for, to discern user expectation. If a person thinks a link will lead to something it does not, ask why they think it will go to there. This helps refine nomenclature. Even seemingly obvious words may not be clear to your audience.
When trying to determine if web architecture offers a logical path, or looking to see how users would likely complete a task, ask “How would go about doing/finding “x”? (fill in “x” as applies to specific circumstance). Closely observe the process and make note of areas of difficulty — here’s where you’ll want to make adjustments before the site goes live.
Test early, and preferably more than once
It’s ideal to catch problems early on, before too much coding is done. In fact, for truly low budget early-stage tests use Photoshop versions of web pages.
If you can manage a series of tests, all the better. Use static pages to start, get feedback, make adjustments and re-test to see how the changes fare. Hold off on the actual development (coding), until you feel you are close to the end-result, or at least as far as you can go until you need to test out a series of process flows.
It’s good to know what’s right, and even better to know what’s wrong
While it’s nice to hear what’s right with your site, it’s equally important, if not more so, to learn where things fall short. Where are the trouble-spots, design issues and misinterpretation of intent?
Now, go forth and test. Know in your head to welcome responses that point to problems. Discover glitches and make fixes. After all, once the site goes live, hang-ups and stall-outs represent lost opportunity.
For additional resources visit:
- Deni Kasrel
Is this information helpful? Do you have experience with do-it-yourself web usability testing? How’d it go? Comments welcome.
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It happens all the time. Why struggle through a disorganized mess when it’s easy to hop off and head to another destination that offers the same services?
Just like in real life, clutter on the web presents lack of focus. What’s less obvious is how a visually appealing website can suffer from the same problem.
Hidden problems with hierarchy
Visual confusion occurs when too many elements on a page carry the same weight visually. There’s no clear starting point, or hierarchy. So a visitor’s eyes dart about the page and more or less fight to figure out where to land first.
In another situation, your company name, tagline and main navigation are positioned atop your homepage; where you want users to see it right away; yet this isn’t necessarily how someone experiences the page. If, for example, your logo and main navigation are muted in design as compared to a right-hand sidebar sporting an array of eye-catching graphics, the visitor’s focus is pulled to those jazzier images. Their eyes glance over the top of the page such that it may not even register. Your main message is instantly diluted.
Good-looking design does not guarantee optimum user experience
It’s like when you go into a furniture store and see a chair that’s sharp and stylish yet is uncomfortable to sit in. You pass it up and search for something that both looks and feels right.
Your website can be much the same when form trumps function. A bugaboo here is that a nicely laid-out page does not immediately present itself as problematic — it looks fine to the naked eye.
That’s where usability testing comes in. The testing reveals hidden problems that hinder your site from working at peak level.
A costly step to overlook
It perplexes me how a business can launch a website without first seeing how the site is perceived and used by target audiences. This type of testing is an undervalued and overlooked step to website success.
Meanwhile, the same company takes pains to put a lot of effort into search engine optimization of keywords, tags and other elements of coding. So great; you figure out how to rank high in search results, only to misguide those eyeballs when they reach your lovely site.
Repeat after me: Usability testing is not a luxury
There are companies that specialize in user experience. Depending on the depth and purpose of your site you may want to fork out the dough to bring in an expert. Many web developers offer this service, too. I advise at least going the latter route. Particularly when you’ve got lots of forms an/or e-commerce going on, it can be money well spent.
If purse strings don’t allow paying for usability testing, take matters into your own hands. It need not be a costly complex process.
And to prove it, my next post will offer tips on how you can conduct usability testing for low or no cost. Stay tuned.
Have you, too, noticed web sites that look good but lack focus? Do you think more sites can benefit from usability testing? Comments welcome.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )