All About Website Usability Blog – Holly Phillips

When to do usability testing
June 11, 2009, 4:12 am
Filed under: customer-centered-design, usability testing

Companies usually start doing usability testing by doing what I call “disaster checks”.  They let the designers go off and design as best they can, then bring in some users near the end to make sure they didn’t miss anything.  The problem with this approach is twofold:  (1) it assumes the general design approach is on-target and at most needs some minor tweaks; and (2) it’s too late to react to any but the most minor usability issues found in the testing.

A much more effective and efficient approach is to dfully integrate usability testing throughout the entire design process:

  • Before you start designing:  Perform early testing to determine where the customer needs truly are (do they REALLY need that new capability you want to add, or are they much more interested in having you fix one of the existing capabilities?)
  • During the design phase:  Perform iterative customer-centered-design throughout the entire design process.  Start by testing some radically different design mockups with customers, incorporating their feedback into the designs, repeating, and continuing to do this until you have high confidence in the final design
  • After you release the new design.  Perform before-and-after task-based testing to see how easily customers can do their tasks on the old design, and then how easily they can do them on the newly-released design.  We typically measure satisfaction, success, and time-to-complete, as well as collect customer suggestions and path data showing how exactly they tried to do their tasks
  • As you think about the next design.  Continuing to mine your site metrics can tell you a lot about where people get stuck.  Conducting regular customer satisfaction surveys with the use of the website can give you direct customer words about the problems they have.  And conducting task-based usability studies or interviews, where you watch customers try to do typical tasks (or, better yet, their own tasks) at your site yields invaluable insight.  All of this can be used to help direct where to focus your next design efforts for the biggest customer impact.

So the real answer to “when to do usability testing” is “all the time”.  Once you make it an integral part of your design process, not only will you understand your customers better but your design efforts will be much more well-framed and guided, and you’ll have solid metrics on the impact of your design efforts.


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