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Get started with usability testing in 7 simple steps

Posted by Jacob Creech on January 28th, 2011

I recently gave a presentation to a group of communications managers from local non-profit organisations. While they all had a reasonable understanding of what usability is, most were unaware of how to test usability, how to make changes to improve usability, and how to get themselves started with a usability testing process.

I think many people suffer from this problem. They like the idea of making there sites more usable, but they just don’t know how to get themselves started. So with all of this in mind, I put a brief presentation together to try and help people get started with understanding usability testing, what it is, how it works, and how, who and when to test. You can see the presentation below:

Key points:

Make the most of everyone you can
After our discussion there were a few key points that really stuck out. Most people don’t realise you can started with your usability testing simply by asking a friend, family member or colleague for some quick feedback, or even just observing how they interact with your site. Making observations and seeing how people interact with your site can really show you what is or isn’t working properly. Of course, the other beauty of this is that it doesn’t take any time to set up, and testing only takes as long as watching someone play around with your website. You can send out a question or test on your Facebook or Twitter feeds, in your newsletters, through your RSS feed, in forums you frequent, or any other way you can think of. Just ask, and you’ll find a lot of people are willing to share their views.

When doing this kind of testing, you can either sit back and watch how people interact with your site, or try and prompt them towards completing certain tasks – find our contact details, how much does such and such a product cost – let your imagination run wild. People really do interact with sites in a huge number of different ways – some will search for the product, some will look for certain categories, some will go through all the navigation menus looking for the product – and what you can learn from this is how your process stacks up. Was it easy for people using all of these different methods to find a certain product? Do you even have a search feature? What should the user do if they can’t find the information they are after? All of these things need to be considered.

El Card Sorting también resulta divertido para todos

Try card sorting exercises
Card sorting exercises can be really useful for sorting out this kind of categorisation. Make some kinds with different products and categories (or articles, or anything else that relates to your site) and ask how people think things should be structured. Maybe you would have thought everyone would look in category A for product x, but you find most people look in category B instead. This is useful, actionable information that you can use.

Use the web
As well as soliciting feedback from Facebook, Twitter et al, you can also search around for information on whatever specific topic you are interested in. There are tons of great, cheap testing tools (I’d suggest IntuitionHQ of course) that you can check out. There are a range of fantastic communities you can turn to for feedback – the great Stackexchange sites are a great starting point. The point is, the web is full of useful information, helpful people (yes, and some not so helpful ones as well), and more fantastic resources than you could shake a stick at. Make the most of it.

feedback-site

Listen to feedback
Another point is to consider all feedback that you receive. All feedback is useful feedback. The chances are that if one user has take the trouble to write to you about an issue that dozens more are experiencing it. When you receive this kind of feedback, the least you can try and do is try and test it. If you find an issue, make changes. It will improve the usability of your site.

Don’t be afraid to make changes
Once you’ve observed peoples interactions, received their feedback and heard their opinions, don’t be afraid to make changes. You can keep making small changes to improve the usability of your website, rather than letting everything pile up on top of you.

Know your audience
If you are making a knitting website, the experience should be markedly different than if you were making a programming website. Know your audience, try and learn how they interact with the internet. Making profiles or personas can be a very helpful exercise so you can better understand who is using your site, and what kind of experience they would be expecting when they come to your site. You can come up with several different profiles, and try and optimise the site for how each one of them interacts with your site.

Do it now
The worst thing you can do after sitting here and reading this is not doing anything. You should go out now, ask anyone what they think of your site. Think of some key things that anyone should be able to accomplish on your site, and then ask your friend, family member, workmate, Twitter follower or whoever else to try and complete those tasks. Observe their interactions. Use a web tool like IntuitionHQ. Get their feedback on what they think does or doesn’t work. The point is do it, and do it now. And then prioritise and action all that feedback that you receive.

The final point

Everyone experiences the web in different ways. Everyone has a different understanding of how things should work. Think about the way you use the web compared to friends, family, workmates etc. and how different that is from your own experience. I often use ‘the mum test’ – what does my mum think of the site, how does she interact with it, how does she navigate through it, can she complete whatever task is required when she goes to the site… Try doing a mum test of your own, and get started testing your own sites. You’ll be amazed what you find.

I’ll leave you with this video which will hopefully help to explain just how different people see the web, and hopefully it will help you understand just how different everyone is and how different our understandings can be.

Images from Flickr users: mario_carvajal, hikingartist

Questions? Comments? Be sure to let us know in the comments below. And if you want to get a head start on your usability testing, why not head over to IntuitionHQ, sign up for an account, and test your own start. A more usable web starts now.

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