In the quest to develop an exceptional website or application, you shouldn’t be afraid to put it to the test – it will only make the end-product better.
There are many different types of testing that can (and should) be part of delivering an excellent user experience on your website or application, but I’d like to focus on a specific kind of testing; one that will help you determine if your website is doing its job effectively – or put another way, if your site is usable.
A Big Usability KISS
In an earlier blog, I talked about Steve Krug’s Book “Don’t Make Me Think” and those words couldn’t be more true when it comes to usability. The KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) principle needs to apply because your users want you to make it easy for them to interact with you. An interface that forces a user to ponder over an option (or what to do next) will lead to user frustration and fatigue. The best way to create an interface that users don’t have to think about, is by keeping best practice design principles front and center and by conducting usability testing.
Why’s usability so important?
Usability testing quickly lets you know if your user interface will get the passing grade from your most important critics – your users. Quite simply, a bad user experience could sound the death knell for your online presence (or application), pushing users to go elsewhere to get what they want and need.
What’s usability really?
Before I get more into usability testing, it’s important to understand usability (and I think one of the best definitions comes from Nielsen/Norman):
“Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word ‘usability’ also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.”
So, how do we verify these key components were indeed addressed in your design (and make sure your website or application meet the key criteria for usability)? We test.
What is Usability Testing: A one-on-one exercise where a facilitator sits with a user and observes a user’s attempts to complete a set number of tasks. They are also asked to talk through the steps needed to complete the tasks as they attempt them. Users are reminded there are no right or wrong answers. The test is designed to look at how users think the tasks can be accomplished.
In addition to on-site usability testing, there are online services that provide usability testing. These services let us define a series of tasks we want to check, and select the demographic or user profile for the test. Online usability tests can be completed within a very short timeframe and give us a report back on how easy it was for our users to complete the assigned tasks or where issues might lie. Online usability testing is an alternative to in-person usability testing when it’s not possible to pull together a representative test group.
Why usability testing is needed: It helps uncover problems with an application’s interface or layout. When it comes to building websites, we can get too close to the process and think we know how users will interact with it. Usability testing lets us know if our assumptions are right and if users find it as easy as we think it should be to complete all their tasks. It can (and should) be done a few times starting early during the development process to minimize a cascade effect when changes are made at late stages of development.
Whitecap puts usability to the test
We don’t just talk about usability testing, it’s something we do regularly for our customers, and the results have always helped us build a better solution.
For example, at Woodbine Entertainment Group we did extensive usability testing using both online testing tools and in-person sessions with both existing and new customers for the new HPIBET.com horserace wagering application. The tests helped us to verify the user interface was intuitive, easy to use and new features were easy to find. Interestingly, during one usability test we discovered that the search bar was not as evident as we thought it was. A quick re-design allowed us to improve the experience dramatically.
One final note on usability testing: It’s important that the users selected to test the application or website represent your ultimate user community. It won’t help you to know your site is easy to use among highly computer literate millennials if your target group is retirees with basic computing skills.