All About Website Usability Blog – Holly Phillips


Testing visual design separately from layout and content
August 6, 2009, 4:57 am
Filed under: usability testing, visual design

Just say no!  It used to be a very widespread practice in usability testing to test hand-drawn sketches with customers, keeping things like color, font, and spacing out of the mockups so as to not “distract” the users.  Many design companies still advocate this approach today.  But this approach assumes that color, font, and spacing have no impact on the usability of a layout.  That’s been proven over and over again to be false.

Luke Wroblewski at Functioning Form has a great blog with example after example of how adding visual design elements can make or break a design.  And we’ve seen this in our own work.  A page filled with black text and a black-on-white call-to-action button failed to get customers to click on the button, but the exact same page with black text and a white-on-red button increased the clickthru dramatically.  Or a homepage with blue tabs proved totally unusable (nobody saw the tabs), while the same homepage with yellow tabs was suddenly very successful.

The next time a design firm suggests testing black-and-white design sketches to test for usability, just say no.  What you learn will have very little relation to the usability of the final full-color version.

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