Usability Testing Answers Questions. Stop Speculating.

Are you 100% positive you know how your target audiences use your website?

Have you been in the midst of a redesign when questions come up about how something should work, how a person will flow through your website to accomplish their primary task, what a person might grasp when they get to a page with detailed content, or other questions like these?

Start answering these questions with usability testing.

To run a usability test, it helps to have a specific question in mind. While you can gain an understanding of your audience’s impressions of marketing-critical pages from usability testing, it’s most effective in finding out how a user might approach a task or series of tasks. In higher education, this might include scheduling a visit or applying for admission. In health care, this could consist of finding a doctor, scheduling an appointment, or finding driving or transit directions.

Context

Beyond uncovering answers to these questions, you often gain meaningful context during usability testing sessions. In one case, I sat with a high school senior in her school’s study hall in inner-city Philadelphia and watched her get distracted by other students throwing paper balls behind her, all while she was trying to get through a university admission application. She’d gotten the same error twice in a row and kept trying to click past it, as the melee in the background continued.

Analytics alone wouldn’t have shown what was causing these repeated errors. A real-world testing environment helps you understand the difficulties your audiences may be experiencing. Having the context of this situation showed us we needed to take a completely different approach to that particular portion of the application.

First time sitting through a full-day usability study of a site for which I’m responsible. Stressful, exhausting, and so helpful.
— Aaron Rester (@aaronrester) July 11, 2017

So helpful. Usability testing is worth the stress and exhaustion, because you gain solid insights and a list of items to fix. You’ll help more users than you can measure.

If you’ve never seen a usability test in action, this one may help you understand their value. Watch people struggle with Spotify:

This next example isn’t precisely a usability test, but it is an example of a real-world scenario that many site creators may run into. In this clip from HBO’s series Silicon Valley, Richard protests that everyone so far has loved his product, then realizes he’d only shared it with engineers.

“You’re trying to sell the platform to regular people, but you never actually put it in the hands of regular people.”

Eliminating Hypotheticals

This demonstrates the real value in usability testing: the elimination of hypotheticals. After testing, you know how your new site is being used by real people and, ideally, by your real audiences.

Testing early saves you time and money in development. Depending on what you intend to test, the most effective time to conduct usability testing is often in the strategy and design phases of your site creation. Have a question? Answer it with testing.

A day or two of testing can save many more of speculative conversation. #aeachi
— Stephanie Ertz (@s_plum) August 29, 2016

Don’t speculate. Test.