Why should I create prototypes during design process?

Design process -time to create prototypes

I know many people wonder why they should create prototypes. When you are designing a new website, you probably have a lot of great ideas. Or you don’t have any ideas… I know that happens too, of course. But for now I think we settle with the case that you have a lot of ideas. I guess that you also want to test your design ideas, in different stages of your work. My recommendation is that you create prototypes, in every phases of the design process.

If you decided to design a website you have products or ideas that you like to share with the world or future customers. Right? If that’s the case, your ideas should mainly build on your customers needs.

Your entire site should be based on these customers (users) needs.

I know that millions of people struggle everyday with bad usability. It happens on websites and in other systems. On this site I mainly target my content to people that design or develop websites or systems. My target group is people interested in how to make IT more usable and how to improve the User Experience.

How to create a prototype?

My opinion is that it’s not about creating one prototype before you begin coding. Prototypes should or can be done several times during the process. The purpose is to test your ideas. Begin with sketching your idea on a paper. You can create a “fake flow” just by changing the sketch when you simulate “pushing” a button for example. That way you will find out, in an early stage, if some functionality is missing or if the flow you are testing works. If it doesn’t, you have to generate new ideas, iterate and create new sketches and prototypes.

Here you can see an example:

 

I recommend that you also create digital sketches and prototypes. You might need to test interaction of some kind or evaluate the look and feel of the user interface.

Here is an example of a rapid digital prototype i have made to test user interaction: Art_App, It’s in Swedish, but I hope you understand the purpose.

create prototypes

How much time does it take to create prototypes?

To create a paper prototype like the one in the video above takes a few hours. The digital prototype I made is rather small with limited number of pages. It took me about 2 hours to create including the sketches.

If you iterate through the design process and create different prototypes for different purposes it will take some extra time. I will assure you that this time is well invested.

Why should I create prototypes?

Like I mentioned, there are some good reasons for creating prototypes before starting to code or publish your site:

  • ​Testing flow between views or pages
  • Testing navigation
  • Testing functionality, small parts like a calendar function, a web shop checkout or the whole site
  • Testing interaction, between users or between the site/app and the user
  • Evaluate look and feel of the site/app

The most important take away is that you should create prototypes to test your ideas and to test different kind of solutions. It’s an easy way to get on the right track and design a great User Experience.

Testing

If you really want to find out if you meet your users needs you have to test with people in your target audience, “real” users. I will say that this is important during the whole design process. You can test using prototypes. The first thing you need to do is to decide what you are going to test and then which people you need to involve. My experience is that at some point it might be developers that need to test to confirm that your design is possible to develop. At another point it might be users that test a specific functionality on the site, that can also be done with a prototype.

I ask you to remember that it’s important to chose the right people for the test, as well as what need to be in the prototype. If you manage that, the testing will give you great feedback and value for you and your customers.

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Are there any good reasons not to do usability testing?

Are there reasons for not doing usability testing? If you have been reading other posts on this site I think you might answer no. There can be several occasions when you should not do usability tests.

Of course you should do usability testing, but think twice about what and how to test, it takes time and you engage other people.

Be sure to test the things you need to test, with focus on improving the user experience:)

I will go through four reasons that is important to take into account before you decide to do a usability test. Your intention is to test the right things, right? And you does not have all the time in the world to spend on testing? You don’t even have a lot of users that are willing to do a lot of testing? If that is the case, I like to point to some factors you should take into account before you begin testing.

  1. Don’t perform tests to get  confirmation on things you already knew, it’s waste of time. Sounds obvious but it’s not unusual.
  2. Be clear about what you wan’t to test. Testing everything on the site gives few answers on a lot of questions. It’s better to do several smaller tests, with focus on different parts or functions on the site. It gives more concrete input for improvements.
  3. It’s great to hear what users think about your colours and photos but it might be more important to focus on the process of completing a purchase and other functions on the site. Visual impression is important to but it should not be the only thing you test and get feedback on. Build your test on core functions on your site, things that “is the business” on your site.
  4. How do you know that your improvements work if you don’t test them?

I hope you found some value in this post and that it is useful for you when you wish to improve the usability on your site. You should do usability tests, but not for the reasons above. You can read more about usability testing here.

If you have some ideas of your own to complement this list, please leave a comment below. I look forward to get your input:)

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Usability testing on your blog

On your request: usability testing for bloggers

A lot of comments have discussed usability testing on a blog site and I will try to help you with it in this post.

Why should you do that on your blog? A lot of people who commented on my posts are writing about their own blogs and about usability. I think it’s important to consider usability for any site that has visitors!

I mentioned in earlier posts that it’s important to know your users (and readers). On a blog, your readers are also users and have needs.

They visit you blog for a purpose, they are looking for an answer or to find tips about something. When they arrive, they should not have to look for the information they need.

This sounds great, doesn’t it?

Many of you might see usability testing as a huge process that will take time and effort. A blog often has few pages: Home, About, blog posts, contact and maybe some pages to showcase products you sell (photos, art and so on). A visitor comes to look for information on a certain topic.

I think you will be prepared to meet your users if you consider the five factors for usability I described in an earlier post:

  • Discover
  • Placement
  • Clarity
  • Clues
  • Feedback

These factors all relate to each other and are all part of the site’s usability. These are the basics and I’m going to explain them a bit and how you should consider them as related to your site.

First of all, is your content easy to find on the site? Is there a way to contact you and to subscribe?

Navigation should be easy to find and it should be obvious which objects are for navigation. Functions and objects that relate to each other should be placed close to one other. For example, share buttons and the content they are supposed to share.

It’s important that the people who visit your site get clues about what’s going to happen when they navigate or click on something.

How to find out?

Of course, you can look at these factors yourself. But it might be important that you know a lot about your site.

It’s not a big deal to do a usability test for you site. I recommend you to start with the people you know, but they should not be familiar with your site!

Ask friends and family members to do a usability test for you.

How to perform the usability testing?

To start, set up some tasks. They must be things that you think users want to do on your site. For example:

1) Find a specific answer to a question.

2) Find a specific blog post about carrot diets

3) Find a photo that have a “seascape”

4) Follow you on Twitter

5) Share a post

Begin the test

First, let your test person begin by looking around your site. Ask him/her to “think aloud,” which means to say what they think (for example: “where are the share buttons”).

You can check if navigation is easy to discover and if related functions are placed close to each other.

Is it obvious what different functions do or how you get to different pages?

If your users are going to order something or leave the site, are they given information about it?

Observe what he/she is doing and saying and take notes.

When they are finished looking around, head over to the tasks you prepared.

Observe again and take notes. I usually ask the test person if it’s OK to make a video recording of the test session. That makes it a lot easier to get everything. You can go back as many times as you like:)

The test should not take a long time, I think that “Guerilla usability testing” might work as well if you prepare yourself with a laptop and goes to the local café, if you feel comfortable with it!

Why should I do this?

I think the answer is because it favors your readers/users. We are all closest to ourselves and I know that you will be surprised when you see another person using your site. It’s common to think: “why is he or she doing that?” “Can’t they see how it should be done?”

And that is why you should do it! Returning visitors will be familiar with your site, but new visitors might leave if they don’t figure out how to do what they intended to.

I hope this is useful for you. Please feel free to ask questions below:)

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Example: Guerilla usability testing

Usability testing at  a cafe

Boris Masis, Google Developer Relations Program Manager gave a ”show and tell” about “Guerilla Testing with Usability Cafe,”  an example that shows that user testing does not have to be a time consuming activity. And you will save time in you project by performing usability testing, and as I said in my last post, the earlier you do the usability test, the better (click here to read the whole post).

He mention in the clip below that it’s important to offer the test persons a small treat.

An interesting take away from this video is that you can find up to 85 percent of usability problems by observing five  people who use an app. It might not work the same way with a more complicated systems.  What do you think? If it is a system that performs a lot of different tasks, I think it could take more than five people to test it and more time, but when it comes to an app, I think this is fun to watch and that its a good point.
Enjoy some usability testing out in the wild 🙂

 

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Usability testing -an important part of the process

How to perform usability testing?

When you design a new website or a new system, the user should be “on your mind” all the time. You might ask: when is the right time to do a usability test? To get the best usability possible, it’s important to test as soon as possible. It’s much harder to make changes after a site or system is in use. You can perform simple tests early in the process, test on prototypes!

With a prototype, you can test navigation, placement, layout, clarity, feedback and so on, even if you haven’t started to code 🙂 I will write more about prototyping in a later post.

There are some important things to have in mind if you are going to do a usability test:

  1. Test with users! Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to take a member from the team. One “real” user is better than not testing at all. Testing on your team might be better than not testing, but they probably know a lot about the site/system and that knowledge influences their ability to discover usability issues.
  2. Create realistic tasks for the test. Let the user go through all or some of the tasks, depending of what you need to test.
  3. While the user is testing, sit beside him/her and observe what he/she does during the test. You will not remember it afterwards! Every detail is worth noting, if the user has problems finding a button or function, write it down!
  4. “Thinking aloud” means that the user speaks  their thoughts during the test. This gives even more information than “just” observing what he/she does.
  5. If the user permits it, the best way to take notes is to make a video recording of the test session. You can go back later, as many times as you like. This is a valuable source of information through the whole development process, not only during design.

In a real project, there might not be more then one test. Users have other things to do, of course. But make a plan about what you are going to test. Be sure to test the things you want to test 🙂

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