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Website Usability Test: TED.com

Posted by Jacob Creech on June 10th, 2011

As you might have noticed by now, most of my blog posts are inspired by people asking questions about how to get started with usability testing, tips and tricks for usability testing, and a range of other advice.

Among the more frequent questions that people ask, or more properly, that people would like to see, is a complete website usability test from start to finish. That means from your first look at a website, deciding what questions to write, sharing a test with your testers, and interpreting the results.

This sounds to me like a grand idea; there is nothing like having a complete walkthrough to help you from start to finish, and it’s a good exercise to go through for us as well, and so we’d like to introduce the first in our series of Website Usability Tests – TED.com.

What is TED?

For those who don’t know TED (Technology Entertainment Design) is a conference that features luminaries from a whole range of different areas. Artists, Marketers, Directors, Technology Experts and more. Although there is a huge range of topics, all of the talks appeal to a wide audience, as each of the presenters is passionate about their topic.

Here is a quick video on how to tie your shoes to give you a little idea of what TED is about:

TED really does have a huge catalog of amazing, interesting, inspiring videos, and if you haven’t had a look through the site before, I suggest you go and have a look about. It’s really great.

The TED website:

The TED website

The TED website

As you can see the website has a rather a clean design, especially considering how much content there is on the site. A quick look shows that video is the main thing they are trying show on the site. They have a bunch of filtering options available, to help you find the type of videos that you find most interesting.

It appears the TED blog, and TED conversations are also something they are trying to push, as both are featured prominently on their site.

There is nothing that seems glaringly wrong with the website, but lets work out some quick questions to test peoples interactions and see what our results show. If you are interested you can take the test yourself before you read the logic behind our questions, and contribute to our results .

The Questions:

The easiest way to determine your questions is to think about some important tasks that users would like to achieve when going to the site. I’ve written more about what to test while usability testing, but for now lets look at some important tasks for the TED website.

How would you view the upcoming TED conferences?
TED is all about the TED conference, and I imagine this would be a common task for users coming to the site (and a quick look at your analytics data would show how important this is).

How would you find videos about business?
The important thing here is seeing if people can understand how the filters work, or if they are more inclined to use the search box. If many people use search, you’d obviously want to ensure that videos and other content on the site were easy to search through.

How would you subscribe to the TED newsletter?
As most online marketers would tell you, getting people signed up to email lists is a great way to increase conversions. From a users perspective, it’s a great way to keep up with all the latest news on your favorite sites, and so I would therefore imagine it’s an important tool on this site.

How would you search the TED site?
Supposing what you are looking for isn’t on the main page, you’d probably turn to the search box to find what you are looking for.

How would you follow TED on Twitter?
Social media is an increasingly important tool for users and brands alike, and a great way for people to interact with sites and services that they enjoy.

How would you get to the TED blog?
As I mentioned when I was talking about the site design, the blog is prominently featured – in my opinion at least – so lets see if and how users can get to it.

How would you sign up to the TED website?
The website also has a membership function, which is all well and good so long as users can find it. I tried to avoid using the word ‘register’ here, as we’ve found people sometimes are automatically drawn to words in the questions without actually reading the questions themselves.

So there we have our core questions. Our experience has shown tests with less than 10-15 questions are more successful, and less likely to have users dropping out part way through. Of course, the more committed your user group, the less likely they are to give up with longer tests and longer questions. For a public test, we think this is a good mix.

Sharing the test:

This is something many people are curious about. If you are running your own website, you can always get your users to take the test for you; users are generally keen to contribute to sites they enjoy. Using forums, emails newsletters and even friends and family can also be very helpful, and it’s really easy to get these people to help you with your testing.

For this test, I simply put the link in our Twitter feed and on our Facebook page in order to get a reasonable sample before we published the results. Including a link to your tests in blog posts is also a great way to attract more testers.

The results:

How would you view the upcoming TED conferences?

How would you view the TED conference?

How would you view the TED conference?

As you can see from the results the average click time on this page was 18.87 seconds, and we have a 69% success rate. These numbers are reasonable, but not exactly stunning. Sometimes with the first question of a test, users are still getting familiar with the interface so that is one possible factor.

It’s also possible the there would be a faster response time and greater success rate if they moved the conference text to the left with themes, speakers and so on. The stronger text is more likely to catch the eye.


How would you find videos about business?
How would you find videos about business?

How would you find videos about business?

A 90% success rate, and an average click time of 12.5 seconds is quite reasonable for this kind of site. There are of course ways they could pull of this information more, but they should be happy with this result.


How would you subscribe to the TED newsletter?
How would you subscribe to the TED newsletter?

How would you subscribe to the TED newsletter?

Unsurprisingly, considering the location of the newsletter signup area, there is a much longer average response time for this question, and a lower success rate. We usually look at 80% or higher as being a successful result, and while this result is close, when you combine that with the fact there is a longer average click time, this isn’t a very successful result.

If they want to increase the presence of the newsletter signup, they could move it higher in the hierarchy, possibly by the sign in and register buttons, or near to the search box. It is becoming a convention to feature subscription options near the top right of the page, including via email, rss, and Twitter and Facebook, and it might be wise for them to consider this with their design.


How would you search the TED site?
How would you search the TED site?

How would you search the TED site?

100% success rate, and a 4.64 second response time – an overwhelming success. Having the search bar in this location has been a convention for a very long time, and this goes to show how powerful following conventions can be.


How would you follow TED on Twitter?
How would you follow TED on Twitter?

How would you follow TED on Twitter?

A surprisingly strong response on this question. 100% success, and 7.71 second average response time. Part of this is because as users go through the test they get more familiar with the interface, but evidently people aren’t surprised by scrolling down to find links to different networks.


How would you get to the TED blog?
How would you get to the TED blog?

How would you get to the TED blog?

An 85% success rate, and an average click time of 9.19 seconds is still very good. A few people clicked in the From the TED Blog section, but most just went to the TED Blog in the top right navigation area.

The only change they might consider here is turning the From the TED Blog text into a link, and perhaps playing with the wording a little to ensure a good understanding of what From the TED Blog means.


How would you sign up to the TED website?
How would you sign up to the TED website?

How would you sign up to the TED website?

A 93% success rate, and an 8.65 second average click time is also very good. Surprisingly a few people went for the subscribe by RSS option, rather than registering for the site; it’s always interesting what testing shows up.

Signup in the top right is another developing convention, and something users are obviously familiar with. A good result.

Conclusion:

The TED site, unsurprisingly, is well designed and meets most users needs very well. There are a couple of small tweaks they could make to the newsletter positioning, and the prominence of the conference text, but overall the site performs admirably.

The few tweaks that could occur are both easy and quick to implement, and overall the site is a good example of well thought out, usable design. If you are interested, you can view the results in their entirety, and see what changes happen over time.

For now though, it seems as if TED.com is doing very well.

Final Score: 9/10

The TED site is well designed, and easy to use. There are a couple of very small tweaks that could be made, but overall it’s a great site.

What do you think of the TED site? Do you find it very usable? Are there any sites you’d like to see us review in the future? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS feed, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts on what we should test in the future, and to keep up with all the latest usability news.

Thanks for dropping by!

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  • http://twitter.com/RobertBrugman  Robert Brugman

    That was me signing up by RSS…. I guess “Sign in” and “register” is different to me than “signing up”. Maybe thats because i am not a native english speaker. (and reader)

  • UsabilityNL

    Great article – but arent the subjects biased when you ask them the questions using these specific naming?

    When you ask people “How do you follow TED on Twitter?” they will “just” scan the page to find “twitter” .. where if you ask a question like “Can you find a way to find out how TED communicates news or publications” you won’t tell them actually what to do..

  • http://intuitionhq.com Jacob Creech

    Thanks Robert – interesting point! Just goes to show there are a lot of things to consider when writing these kinds of questions, and you really need to consider who you are aiming your test at. Cheers for the comment. 

  • http://intuitionhq.com Jacob Creech

    Good point. Thanks very much for sharing that. My thought at the time was since it was at the bottom of the page/required scrolling to find, it shouldn’t have much of an influence on peoples reactions. Some food for thought though – always lots of things to consider. Cheers.

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  • http://twitter.com/ResultsJunkie Laura Wesley

    I did the same thing and I am a native English speaker. I’ve used that site before and it never occurred to me that I would need to register to the site for something.

    Great blog post and test design.

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