Krissy Scoufis / Design / May 2nd, 2013

What is Usability Testing? Simple Tests You Should be Using to Improve Your Business

Do you want to discover a fast and easy way to dramatically improve the experience your users have on your website? Of course you do.

When a website doesn’t work there is always a reason. Even the most experienced designers and programmers may inadvertently overlook an element in the user interface that doesn’t delight its users. And let’s face it, today’s websites cannot be merely functional, they need to amaze.

It may seem daunting, but one surprisingly simple and efficient tool that every web designer – or even business owner – should be using to create amazing experiences is usability testing, a process that should be done at multiple points during any project lifecycle.

We’ve talked before how testing is integral to our marketing process, and it permeates all the work we do at 352. In its simplest form, user testing is someone, doing something, somewhere that you can observe them. It is, hands down, the easiest way to find out what users think about the design and how effectively they can move through it.

The bottom-line benefits to user testing are well documented. The average user interface (UI) contains at least 40 usability errors, errors that can cause user frustration or abandonment. These errors, if identified and fixed in the design phase will cost 10 times less than errors discovered in the development phase. It’s been estimated that improving the customer experience increases the number of buyers by 40% and increase order size by 10%.

So how does user testing work?

“The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford. 5 users will uncover 85% of the usability problems in your site.” ~ Jakob Nielsen

User testing does not have to be a complicated or expensive activity to generate the feedback you need. Guerilla, remote and moderated testing are the three most common approaches to usability testing.

Guerilla testing is best used when little to no budget exists for testing.  Using either a paper prototype or wireframe, you can quickly gather opinions about your site. My favorite approach to Guerilla testing is to just set up a laptop at the local Starbucks and offer to buy a tall latte in exchange for a little time from a volunteer.

Remote testing is conducted with third party vendors like usertesting.com, usabilla.com and trymyui.com. This is a great way to get feedback when time lines are short and deadlines are looming. All you need to do is write a test script, create tasks you want users to perform – like find a specific product or contact you for an appointment – and the tests can be deployed within hours. The third party vendor handles recruiting your users and recording the sessions.  Typically you will have the recordings available to review within a day or two.

Moderated testing takes a little more planning, budget and time. These tests are done in person, typically in a testing lab. The 45- to 60-minute sessions can use the same tasks as remote testing, but you’ll wind up with a deeper understanding of user expectations, opinions and overall experience with the site.

Each website we build is crafted with the experience of site users in mind, and it’s something every business should consider – with their websites or products. By incorporating user testing early and often, we are better able to take the guesswork out of meeting the needs of site users and can help both our clients and their customers easily achieve their goals.

Do you have a preferred method of usability testing? Let us know in the comments!