Leveraging Usability Testing to Improve Website Design

By Laura Rives — Thursday, October 29th, 2015 at 2:00pm
Leveraging Usability Testing to Improve Website Design

Usability testing refers to evaluating a product or service by testing it with representative users in either a formal or informal setting. Usability testing helps discover the flaws and areas for improvement in your work, which may be hard for you to see yourself. Stepping back and having others walk through your existing prototype can help you discover new ideas, challenges, or use cases you hadn’t previously considered. You can test at any time, either before your prototype launches or when your website needs updating.

Formal Testing

Formal testing involves more planning, but the payoff can be worth it. If possible, those testing your prototype should be end users because they can offer the most critical and relevant feedback for making improvements. Typically, a formal test will use a set list of objectives that each end user should attempt to accomplish while an assigned observer documents their feedback. Team members who are facilitating the formal training should ask questions and push end users to provide feedback throughout the entire length of their session.   

Afterwards, users’ responses can be analyzed to discover and evaluate any trends or common roadblocks. Sometimes, only one participant comes across a certain type of issue. If it seems legitimate, don’t discount it simply because others didn’t encounter it. Implementing an improvement now will be easier than waiting until your prototype is no longer a prototype.

Informal Testing

Informal testing is more convenient since it can happen on the fly and requires far less planning. You can invite peers that have not directly worked on your prototype to test. While they might be aware of the prototype in a peripheral sense, they can still offer a fresh set of eyes. Ask them to provide feedback and take note of their experiences as they perform the set list of objectives.

As a user shares their interpretation of the steps involved in completing the assigned objectives, you may find that they’re not experiencing what you intended. Are they confused at a given point or are they achieving the wrong goals? Informal testing is a cost-effective way to improve your design efforts without spending a lot of time or money. The best part is you can do this multiple times if your team members have the availability and willingness.

Practical Metrics

Regardless of the type of site you are creating, common metrics of website usability include:

  • Intuitiveness and learnability of tasks

  • Readability, ease of comprehension, and enjoyment

  • Webpage organization and categorization

  • Accessibility and browser compatibility

  • Webpage response time

The Importance of Testing

Regardless of the method, the main takeaway is that regularly-implemented usability testing results in better design and happier clients. And, perhaps most importantly, you need to circle back with your site visitors. They are the source of online reviews, word-of-mouth recommendations, client testimonials, and case studies - all of which will help determine your prototype’s future.

If you’re passionate about producing quality visitor journeys, usability testing should be a part of your design process. If formal testing isn’t realistic, consider informal testing - or even remote testing - as an alternative.

Regardless of industry or testing methodology, happy users and happy clients will dramatically improve your final design and increase your bottom line.

How do you conduct usability testing? Do you use formal or informal methods? What results has your testing yielded?


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