Web DesignWeb Usability
When to start usability testing
Usability testing is one of the most resourceful things that you and your company can do to protect your website investment. Poor web usability leads to lost sales, frustrated customers, and a bad reputation that can take years to shake off. Fact is, there is far too many competing websites out there today and if your site is unusable, or frustrating to the user, they will simply go elsewhere (to your competition).
So where to begin?
If you’re already doing usability testing on your website, then great!
Unfortunately, most companies wait until their site is fully developed and ready to launch (or in some cases, already launched) before they start usability testing with actual users. If a major usability issue comes up, it is usually too late (or too expensive) to do anything about it. Typically “major/expensive” issues are pushed off (until the next major build of the website) and only the easy or smaller usability concerns are ever addressed.
We propose starting usability testing as early as possible in the process (typically the the design phases) and adopting the “early and often” approach to usability testing. This “early and often” approach allows the company and the developers to catch usability issues early and address them quicker and in the budget friendly phase of the process. This leads to a user-friendly website that requires less maintenance and generally gives you a better return on your investment. It is much more cost-effective to fix a navigation structure when its on-paper (or on flash-cards) than it is when it is fully coded on a site.
Even simple mock-ups on paper (or cocktail napkins) can be tested for usability. If your test subject can’t figure out your sire design on a simple piece of paper, they will probably not be able to figure it out when its fully implemented and coded. If the user finds problems with the cocktail napkin design, it is relatively simple (and quick) to re-draw the design and go through a few revisions until you get it right on paper; far more cost-efficient than to have your developer spend hours re-arranging or writing code on a “completed” site.
As you progress along the development cycle, you should be continuing to find and fix errors, however these issues should become less critical and easier to fix in part because of the extra work that you did earlier in the process.
But usability testing takes too much time and is too expensive!
Steve Krug, author of Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems, and one of the foremost web usability experts, recommends a lean and dirty approach to usability testing in a way to keep costs down. All it takes is one hour every couple of weeks with one person. Krug recommends paying the “user” with a simple gift certificate and/or a free lunch. This approach, Krug states, is often times a lot cheaper and produces better results compared to formal usability testing which can take a few days and involve anywhere from 10-20 people per session.
Fact is, you don’t need a bunch of trained usability testers or expensive equipment to conduct usability tests. In most cases, a video camera, a notepad, a volunteer (the user), and a moderator is all that you need to conduct usability tests that provide results.
Usability testing is one of the best things you can do to protect your investment on a new website. If a user cannot figure out how to use your site, or worse, not use it at all (due to a missing plugin or some bad script, etc.). then your site is a failure to that user and they will go elsewhere to do what they need to do. This can cause lost revenue and earn your site a bad reputation, which can take years to recover from.
Many people think that usability testing costs a lot of money and is difficult to do, but that doesn’t have to be the case. By adopting an “early and often” approach to usability testing, you can conduct very informal usability tests at a very low cost and generate results that will greatly improve your website.