Usability testing – Does it apply to me?

What makes a good website? Is it the slickness of the look and feel, the features that the site offers, the interesting content or the ease of use?

The look and feel of your site maybe sensational, but what’s the point if it does not accomplish its purpose, which is to lead people to its content? The features that the site offers may be varied and interesting, but what if the user cannot get to them?

An established firm can probably afford the services of a usability consultant, but what about any of us regular people… what are the basic rules that we can follow to have a usable website?

Test, test and test some more

I remember attending this HCI conference on designing usable websites and various testing methods. Though it was all very interesting, I couldn’t help thinking, “All this seems pretty high flown, especially when some tech firms don’t even recognize the benefits of usability”. I took this up with the speaker and he said to me that the secret to a good design was to “test, test and test some more”. This, he told me, can be as simple as getting opinions from colleagues and family. I tried some of the suggestions that he gave me with quite a bit of success.

Here are some ways that you can test a design:

  • Take printouts of the designs that you have created and show them to your colleagues. Ask them what they think of it.

Limiting the viewing time to 5 seconds, we get a valuable glimpse into what happens during the first moments a user sees a page – Christine Perfetti

  • Make a simple clickable interface and have someone who isn’t an expert viewer (like your mom) to try and make sense of how to use it.

Testing on friends, family and co-workers is better than not doing usability tests at all, but it can’t be compared to testing on actual samples of your intended audience. Natalie Downe

  • Simply show it to a bunch of friends both expert and non-expert users and have them speak aloud on how they ‘feel’ about the design.

Thinking aloud allows you to understand how the user approaches the interface and what considerations the user keeps in mind when using the interface – James Hom

The bottom line is, usability testing is not necessarily limited to UX or UI professionals. Everyone of us can pay attention to little details and make a huge difference.


One thought on “Usability testing – Does it apply to me?

  1. Another way to test a design is to outsource the testing. Although some people hear this and immediately think expensive. I created a service for soliciting thoughts from strangers using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk outsourcing platform. $7 for ten responses. I call it the two minute usability test: provide a web address, write some questions, pay, and subscribe to a feed for the responses.

    For those who want more in-depth feedback the excellent gives you a video of someone browsing your site and speaking their thoughts about it for 20 minutes. Cost is $19.95.


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