It can be hard to get the time and budget for usability testing. Considering the overall value a usability study can provide, it baffles me that this is still the case. So, if you are lucky enough to get usability testing in your budget make sure you get the most out of the money and time you spend.
A usability study is only as effective as it is well planned. From identifying what you want to learn, to the approach you’ll use to test it, to making sure your stakeholders are engaged in the process, good up front planning and setting expectations with your team will help make sure you get the most out of your study.
The first step in planning is to understand what you want to learn about your interface. Whether you’re testing an idea for a new site or you’re testing an existing system, you and your fellow stakeholders want to know what’s working and what’s not.
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Identify Clear Objectives
If you’re testing an existing site or system, start by looking at your metrics. User statistics, Google (or other provider) analytics, and other sources of user data are good places to start. This data tells one part of the story of how people interact with your sights and can serve as a good starting point to identify things you want to learn more about. Are people not getting to certain content on your site? Analytics can tell you what’s happening, but it can’t tell you why. A usability study can help uncover the reasons people may be missing certain segments of your content.
Another method of identifying the objectives for your usability study is to talk to your customer service staff. Your customer service and support staff is on the front lines with your site or system users. They hear about the struggles your users encounter every day. Make sure you ask them what commonly trips your users up.
What Are You Going to Test?
After you understand what you want to learn, you’ll need to identify the specific tasks in the interface that you’ll need to observe. If you’re using a prototype, you will also need to consider the amount of time it will take to include all of the functionality that you want to test. A clear task plan will help your team focus on building out the necessary functionality in the prototype.
Make sure the data and content that participants will see in your prototype is as realistic as possible. Most people who participate in a usability study can use their imagination to some degree, but seeing details and content in the interface that are well outside of the range of possibility for a participant can distract them and dilute the value of the feedback you’ll get our of the study. While you don’t need to show each participant details that mirror their actual life, make sure the interface shows data and content that provides a realistic picture. If you’re recruiting a reasonably narrow audience, you should be able to come up with interface details that will mirror their experience.
Leave Time to Test the Test
Whether you’re testing a prototype or a live environment, it’s important to leave enough time ahead of the study to validate the test environment against the test plan and make any adjustments in advance of test day. We always conduct a dry run of our study at least 24 hours ahead of the test. During our dry run, we make sure all of the test questions are helping us get to the details we’re studying and that the data in the interface matches our test plan.
Having access to the test environment to validate the test plan is critical. On rare occasion, we’ve had to delay studies or cancel sessions when the test environment was not finished in time for that final preparation step. Unfortunately, having to cancel a participant’s session means you’re out the money you spent to recruit them and you still have to pay them the money that you were going to pay them to show up, and you have none of the feedback from them to show for it.
Participate in the Process
Make sure your key stakeholders attend the study in person. Being able to interact with the facilitator throughout the day of the study is critical to getting the most out of the time with the participants. When our clients are in our observation room we’re able to ask deeper questions of each participant based on what the clients observe in the lab. You know your business and your needs better than we can
Don’t forget to stick around for the working session. In our post-study working session, we align our observations and make sure that nothing was missed. After this, the development team can confidently start prioritizing updates to your interface right away.
With a little advance planning, you will get a tremendous amount of value out of your usability study.
It can be easy to assume that everyone thinks of things in the same way that your company does and understands all of your industry’s terminology. However, that’s not always the case. That assumption can result in isolating your users or driving them away from your site to define the words you are using. For specialized industries, terms and concepts can be complex and uncommon.
Provide easy to understand definitions of the complex terms and jargon used on your application to ensure that your visitors understand what you are trying to communicate.
Contact us and let’s talk about how you can get the most out of your usability study.
By Rebecca Grazzini
Senior User Experience Specialist
Rebecca has worked on user experiences in a variety of industries including online education, health care, financial services, tourism, energy, and agriculture. She has spent much of her career developing complex transactional experiences under strict regulatory constraints.View Rebecca's Bio