Following up on my previous lesson, The 10 Basics of Website Design, I thought it would be a good time to discuss best practices for consumer usability testing. Because at the end of the day, it is more important what your customers think of your website or product, than what your designers and developers think. So, it is critical to get consumer usability testing into your design schedule right from the beginning, and iteratively therefrom, to ensure your user design is logical to your consumers and working the way you originally intended it to. And, you never know what great ideas will initiate from your users, by playing with your website or product. Not to mention, you will save hours of redevelopment costs by fixing issues as you go, as compared to launching an untested website or product, and having to restart from scratch.
There are many ways to do user testing, including: (1) in-person; and (2) via technologies. We will summarize both of these methods below.
In terms of in-person testing, you can do moderator-led focus groups before and after a user uses your website or product. Before they use it, and before you start building it, you are trying to assess whether or not there is a real need in the marketplace for your product based on simple descriptions or example screenshots. Users will tell you whether or not there is an actual need,whether or not they would use it, what features and functionality they would expect from the product, and whether or not they would pay for it (and how much). This will give you a high level sense to meeting a known need in the market, and what consumers would be expecting. And, when doing focus groups like this, it is important your focus group comprises individuals in your targeted demographic (e.g., gender, age, income, education), to make sure you are getting the best response possible (e.g., don't use a focus group comprised of lower income individuals for a luxury product).
Focus groups can also be done, immediately after a user first plays with your website or product. To get their immediate reaction to whether or not they liked it, and what they see as potential areas of improvement. And, you would be surprised how much the answers to the same questions can materially change from focus groups completed prior to seeing the product, to after they see they product. As an example, they may be willing to pay a lot more for it, once they see the product in action, meeting their real life needs. And, focus groups like this are also good for A/B testing, in case you are not sure what direction to go. This allows you to show the user two different options while they are using your website or product, version A and version B, and letting them decide which version they like better.
In addition to generic Q&A sessions at focus groups, there are also technologies you can use while the user is playing with your website, live in person. For example, there are sophisticated helmets and cameras you can use that tracks a user's real-time eye movement, and heat maps what elements on the page attracted their eyes, in what order and for how long, to assess if that was the user experience and emphasis you were expecting. For example, if their eye is focuses on a big picture of the product and misses the "buy it now" button, that could be a problem with the design.
But, the problem with in-person focus groups is that they can be time consuming and expensive. You typically have to pay participants $50-$100 per session for their time, which certainly adds up with the scores of participants needed to get a good data sample, for each step of the design process. The good news is there are many affordable technologies that can help you accomplish the same usability testing goals.
I am not a pro on all the various tools in the marketplace, nor have I used them all. So, I did a little research on the internet and discovered this great list of 24 Usability Testing Tools from Craig Tomlin's usability testing blog. Craig is an expert in the usability testing space and did a great job summarizing the pluses and minuses of the various tools you have at your disposal. And many other readers of Craig's blog have posted additional valuable input, in the comments section.
The technologies listed cover the gamut of usability testing needs, from recruiting real users (with tools such as Ethnio) to conducting live one-on-one remote moderated tests (UserVue) to analyzing results of usability changes using A/B testing (Google Website Optimizer) to many more from there. So, check out Craig's post, as it is very relevant to this conversation and will point you in the right direction.
Hopefully this lesson gave you a good sense to why you need to do consumer usability testing, and various ways to implement such, both in-person and via technologies. If you need more help from here, Craig looks like a good guy to know (although I have not met him personally). And, if you are ever in a jam, your marketing firm or development firm often have access to many good resources to assist you here.
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