When building interactive Web sites or applications, the success of our work is not based solely on marketing strategy and design. The real challenge is providing Web customers with clarity, control and satisfaction.
The only real way to ensure understanding and ease of use is to watch representative customers use your site—otherwise known as usability testing, a one-on-one test during which you give participants open-ended tasks to perform on your site. As they use the site, you gain understanding from their confusion.
In most cases, I see usability testing being treated as a low priority. This usually happens due to either the high cost of formal usability testing in a lab or the time it takes to conduct the tests.
The unfortunate result is that most Web sites are launched without knowing the problems that exist. Conducting usability testing early in the process ensures that you discover the bottlenecks and obstructions in your site. By resolving such issues, you will improve results on your site and offer your site visitors a better experience.
So how does one perform usability testing without investing a large amount of time and expense into the project? That's where informal usability testing comes in. A formal usability test involves a long cycle of recruiting the perfect participants, locating the best facilities, setting up the recording and documentation equipment and hiring the professionals to conduct the tests. In some cases, these formal testing projects can span months and cost tens of thousands of dollars.
By cutting some corners, you can conduct tests on your own, without the hassle and expense and still pinpoint the major issues. To simplify the process, I am going to break it down into four areas:
- Define tasks and location.
- Identify and schedule participants.
- Conduct the tests.
- Review your findings.
1. Define tasks and location
Identify the major tasks that a user might accomplish on your site. Traditionally, this is a very long process involving user personas and task analysis.