In our first article in this series, "Usability and Your Site," we introduced the importance of usability and how to identify usability problems. Now that usability is understood and potential issues are recognized we need to define the exact areas of usability issues and how to resolve them.
We have already identified that there may be problems with usability on your site, now we need to define exactly what those problems are so they can be resolved. The best way to accomplish this is through usability testing. By breaking down the wall between the site design and the users, usability testing allows for the best understanding of how real users experience the website and uncovers any pitfalls in the system.
A well-designed user test measures the actual performance of users on the site by observing how they actually use your website and identifying what is working or opportunities for improvement. Depending on the scope of the test, participants are given tasks to accomplish or they surf the site on their own. During the test recording software is used to track user behavior, mouse clicks, and keystrokes. The software is also able to record the computer screen and the participant's voice and facial expressions during testing.
Although usability testing is the only way to directly observe and assess user performance, it is often times thought of as costly, time consuming and confusing process. While it's true that there are several obstacles to overcome with usability testing there are also many ways to overcome these obstacles.
With today's technology usability testing no longer calls for the high cost requirements as it once did. It is now possible to avoid the expenses associated with getting people into labs, arranging testing sessions, utilizing eye-tracking cameras, and so on with a variety of tools, software and services which are now offered online. Thanks to these low-cost options price is no longer holding you back from testing your site, designs, and UI. In fact, investing in usability can generate a handsome return as you develop superior, more usable designs and the happier clients and users that come with that.
A typical lab-based usability study can take four to seven weeks from recruiting users to completing analysis; however that is no longer the case with today's range of remote usability testing services. Depending on the project scope setting up usability testing though an online service can take just minutes and results can be received in as little as a few hours. There are many different kinds of remote testing solutions depending on your own unique requirements for testing. See what fits for you and run with it-you won't regret it, and you'll end up saving time by having less micro-management from clients.
Lack of Motivation:
We already know how important usability is to a site and that lack of usability can cost time and effort and can greatly determine the success or failure of a system. Yet, people still don't think their clients or users care about usability, they think their designs already work flawlessly, they don't understand the testing process, or they can't see the benefits that come from testing - all of this leads to lack of motivation to employ usability testing. Of course, there are many reasons why you should be pro-usability testing - if a user can't figure out how to use a site, they won't use it.
Perhaps the most common myth about usability testing is that it's confusing for the test participants as well as for the site owners. With today's advancements in online usability testing software and services, testing has never been easier. With many software platforms users do not even know that they are participating in a test. Once a user visits your site, they browse it as normal and you are able to view exactly what they clicked on and where they went. All this is done in the background and tracked through a platform similar to "Google Analytics". Many online usability testing software and services provide full reports with hours of completing the test. Depending on the pre-defined requirements these reports include detailed recommendations on areas of improvement including user behavior, entrance and exit paths, heatmapping (color coded overlays showing the most popular areas where users are clicking on a page), and more.
There are many resources available for usability testing; from tests you perform yourselves to online tools, services and software. The next step in the testing process is to conduct a usability test. How you choose to do so depends on what your objectives are. Below are some various options for receiving user feedback, although these don't provide full-data they can be valuable to benchmarking your site's efficacy in the real world:
Usabilla - If you already have a live site up or would like to analyze the performance of a site redesign, Usabilla can be a useful user testing tool. Built-in features measure task performance and an annotation tool allows users to leave their feedback. Usabilla asks users to complete a specific task, such as "Click on the most prominent object on this page", and records the time it takes to complete the task. This tool is free for one web page and include up to 50 participants per test, premium features are between $49 and $950 per year and include the ability to use the tool on more than one page and include more participants per test.
Five Second Test - The theory of Five Second Test to evaluate if a web site is effectively displaying the important elements and that they are memorable to users. There are two ways sites are evaluated: memory test or click test. Memory tests show users a web layout for five seconds, and then asked what they remember afterwards. Click tests ask participants to click on the most prominent items on the page within five seconds. The free version is limited to only five results and the site to be tested is placed in the lowest priority in the testing queue. Paid options are available and range between $5-15, and allow for the ability to provide custom instructions. Paid tests are also given higher priority in the queue.
Social Media - Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Bebo have allowed for a plethora of user testing resources. Corporate fans and followers love to get "sneak peeks" of what is currently being worked on, and to be able to contribute to the process. Not only can you receive great feedback but you are also opening up a door for people to spread the word about your brand or product.
If you don't need to receive direct feedback there are many options available which provide meaningful data and information about the success or failures of your site.
Userfly - With Userfly you can analyze how people are using your website by recording user's mouse movement, click, and form interaction. Set-up does not require software installation on the site or for users, just plug in one line of code into your web pages, you're good to go. The free version of Userfly is free and allows for 10 captures per month and premium plans which allow for more screen captures are available for $10-200 per month.
UserTesting.com - Bridging the gap between no user testing and expensive user testing, UserTesting.com provides "the fastest and cheapest usability testing on the market". UserTesting.com offers the unique ability to give the user a specific task, such as book an Orlando vacation rental for March 18-25. You even have the ability to select your target audience by selecting the gender, age, country, yearly household income and expertise with computers and the web. Users are instructed to provide running commentary as they perform the test and within an hour or so of a completed test, you receive a full video of the user's screen along with an audio recording. Pricing starts at $39/month for full access to user videos and written summaries describing any problems encountered while using your site.
Hopefully these suggestions will give you some on why you should integrate usability testing into your design process, and how you can get it out there when you're ready to go.
If you have any questions about usability testing, or any of the other services offered by OpenVision, feel free to contact us today at 843.785.9911 ext 224.