Archive for June, 2010
That’s good — it means more people realize it’s important to know how well a site works for end-users.
But understanding what makes for a valid usability test? Well, that hasn’t caught on as much.
Even attractive websites have usability problems
This came to mind following a presentation I attended earlier this week, where a web design shop showed off a new site they’d built for a local non-profit corporation here in Philadelphia.
This new website is much bolder and better organized than the old one. It’s sharp, all right.
Even so (in my opinion), there were potential usability issues; especially with certain labels in the primary navigation. During the question and answer period I asked if the design company had conducted any usability testing, and if so, how that went.
People who are too close to your organization do not provide objective feedback
Turns out, there was no budget for usability testing. The non-profit organization had, however, asked employees and stakeholders what they thought of the site and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
That’s hardly surprising. As noted, the new site looks sharp. But sending out a link to a website and asking people what they think of it is not a usability test.
Also, neither employees nor stakeholders are primary end-users here. Interested parties, yes — but not the main people the site was built for. They’re insiders who know too much about the organization and its product offering to offer impartial feedback. Their opinions hold limited weight.
The true test of a website is how it works for end-users
Then too, opinions only count but so much.
Because, when you do usability testing, while you may ask participants what they think of one thing or another, the real test comes from seeing how people engage with the site. You want to know:
- Can users figure out, on their own, what everything means?
- Can users find the information they’re looking for? How do they react to that information? Does it live up to or fall short of expectations?
- Can users accomplish specific tasks? Or do they get stuck along the way?
- Are users satisfied with their overall experience with the site?
It’s test. Not of the participants, but of the site.
Even when testing real end-users, what people say they want to do, and what they wind up doing, may be different. Intent does not always match action. The only way to truly know how someone will use your website it to watch them in action.
There’s a reason it’s called usability testing
If you have the funds to hire an outside consultant who understands the ins and outs of usability testing, go for it. They’ll give you an objective read of how your site works.
If budgets are strapped, take matters into your own hands.
For pointers on how to go about it read my post: The DIY Guide to Web Usability Testing.
And remember, while it’s helpful to know what people think of your site, there’s a reason it’s called usability testing. You’re observing how well the site works when in use.
- Deni Kasrel
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