How can you know in advance if your website design is going to work? Usability testing is where you give volunteers your product — the website, in this case — to try out under controlled conditions, before committing yourself to a final design. In the long run, a good usability test can save your company money.
When to Test?
Testing is most effective after completing a prototype version, and the results can be used to produce a new version, which can be tested again. It’s vital to build usability testing into the process at the initial planning stage, both in terms of time and cost.
Who to Test?
Test subjects should be typical of the people who’ll be using the website. If it’s an ecommerce site, for instance, you’ll want a cross-section of the public, whereas a specialist resource should be tested by those in the relevant field. Subjects can be found by word of mouth, advertising, or through a market research company.
How to Prepare for Testing?
Testing can take place anywhere the subject feels relaxed and is undistracted, such as a private office or a conference room. Ideally, recording equipment should be set up so they can be completely undisturbed; otherwise, the tester should sit out of the way to observe.
Make sure the testing covers all devices relevant for the website, which may mean everything from a desktop to a smartphone.
How Should the Tests Be Structured?
Set the subject a series of tasks reflecting how the website will be used. For an ecommerce site, you could get them to find and “buy” a particular product. If the site offers a service, perhaps ask them to find certain information and get in touch through the contact page. In general, it’s better to set these as scenarios, rather than instructions, and make sure subjects understand it’s the site being tested, not them.
How Do You Assess the Tests?
Whether directly or recorded, observe how the subject goes about the tasks, and encourage them to think out loud. Don’t intervene, except to give any essential information.
Data can be tabulated afterwards — in a spreadsheet, for instance — to be studied for patterns and issues. This will be fed back to the designers to improve the prototype.
Usability testing isn’t a one-time deal. Standards for website design are evolving all the time, so your site should be tested regularly to see how you can improve your customers’ experience. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do this yourself, get in touch with our web design experts who’ll be happy to give you a hand with your usability testing requirements and point you in the right direction.