Usability testing -an important part of the process

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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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18 Replies to “Usability testing -an important part of the process”

  1. Great advice, especially with recording the test. We quite often do things “for ourselves”, forgetting that other people aren’t in our heads and things that are obvious for us, might not be obvious to them. Also, I think it’s good to ask someone from the family or friends to test the site/product for us – the closest people are quite often the best critics!

    1. True:) Family and friends are valuable, especially when we come to websites. The only trick is avoiding to tell to much details:) Yes recording is great, you get all small body movement, hesitation and so on.

  2. Hello!

    Thanks for this brief overview of usability testing. Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of what a usability test was upon reading this initially, so I stopped to look it up quickly. Other than that I thought your layout was simple to understand and it was really easy for me to pick out your main points, and for someone like me, who didn’t previously know what usability was, I found it easy to understand!
    Thanks!

  3. This is a great overview of user testing! As a software developer, it s great to see someone bringing this topic forward! I know myself, I have been on projects that did not take advantage of user testing until late in the process and at that point it is always a disaster – never leave the UX (user experience) to the developers – developers suck at UX!

    Cheers!
    Nancy

    1. Thanks:) I know this, I work in an IT-company as Project Manager/UX designer… Developers are great at developing! I think its a work of a great team that makes a great product. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I have a website and I actually control what users are doing. I think it is vital in every process. I can do every process which you mentioned but I don’t know how often I should test the usability for my web site.

    1. Yes you control what they do, and what they can do. I guess its important to test at least once to see if it works as intended. We often think that others see things like we do, but we have a purpose with what we do, and the users might have another user. But like Adriana said in another comment here: use family and friends that never seen the site to test.

  5. Little things mean a lot. Which is true. You hit on a detail that is very important. And yes actually this is a big thing. Running test is very important to ensure that there were not mistakes along the way.
    And the user is the most important person. If it does not make sense to them that is the most important issue to resolve.
    Great tips

    1. You hit right on the spot here:) Many people in my business (IT) thinks this is a detail: “we have to do some testing to, or do we?…” No harm in that. But to really know how a system or site works for the user, you have to test, with users. You get surprised every time, and realise it was worth the time.

  6. One thing I’ve learnt is that the usability of your website evolves as your content does. The more you add, the easier it needs to be to find old stuff which is what I always focus. Making sure that it’s just as easy to find the new as well as the old posts.
    Wouldn’t third party testers be a better option so that you don’t get any biased feedback? The user could feel pressured by your presence.

    1. Thank you for your comment! There are several options for user testing. You can sit behind a glas and observe the test, there is a possibility to have a third part as well. When developing systems or websites or applications for another company, you have to make sure the usability is good, which in this case mean that the user should understand what to do and that its all are working. Else there might be a lot of lost time on struggling later on when system or site is delivered.
      But according to a private website it is great to let a person who never seen it try to perform tasks to see if it comes easy.

  7. Thank you for this interesting information about usability testing. It is good to know the importance of asking a person who is close to you either a family or a friend for feedback about your new website. Asking someone to actively navigate on your site for feedback about its usability will help you to further improve your website. The more quality or constructive feedback you get, the more chances of your new website of becoming successful in the future.

    1. Exactly:) Thank you for visiting and for your comment. It’s a great way to improvement and to help the users to perform the actions they intended to.

  8. Usability testing is probably one of the most important processes when building a new piece of software or a website.

    I am a developer myself and usually keep myself busy with the actual technical stuff behind systems. I never spend much time on the user interface, until people started to complain that they didn’t understand my systems.

    With help of a User Interface designer we then found solutions to common problems, so now I implement those in my website systems, but I still come across things that could potentially be a problem for an end-user.

    My brother has a company in doing exactly these tests as you described. He hires in people to test websites for customers complete with mouse tracking and video recordings.

    I will take your tips and guide to my next project. Thanks for you post and site!

    1. Hi and thanks a lot for your feedback. It means a lot to me:) I work in an IT-company myself and I know that we all have different focus. I’m there for these things and I think it is awesome to be a part of a great development project where the users are in focus. I’m glad you think this might be of some use for you.

  9. Wow! This was an eye opener! I never thought I was doing ti wrong in my business. I was just writing content for my website and since I was a beginner, I thought that creating more useful content would help but I never thought that I should actually look from the reader’s perspective. Thanks for the great post.

    1. Thank you for your comment! Glad I could give some new perspectives. I always worked in the space between humans and technology and it is great fun. The tech should help people do their tasks:)

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