Testing Usability: Question Before You Code

usability questionsI said it last week and I'll say it again.  I really do enjoy being a website project manager because I get to do really neat things on the job.  For example, last week we performed usability testing on some software that we're developing.  If you've never done usability testing, you may want to read this week's post.  You'll see that doing usability testing before you publish your website will leave your visitors with less questions and ultimately help you achieve your business goals.

User Friendly. Easier Said Than Done

Usability is the science of ensuring that your website is easily understood by your visitors and that the tasks they want to perform are clearly identified and simple to use.  Sound easy, right?  You'd be surprised.  If you've ever found yourself fumbling around on a website, chances are you've been the victim of poor usability.

If you have poor usability, it can adversely impact how customers perceive you.  Or even worse, your potential audience might not even see your message at all.  Testing for usability helps to be sure that your message will be clear and that your visitors will have fewer questions about how to further engage your services.

Four Steps of Usability Testing

In a nutshell, usability testing involves four main steps:

  1. Take a drawing, a concept, a wireframe, an existing website... anything you want to test for usability.
  2. Show your "something" to someone who has never seen it before.  Ask them to tell you what they think about it, what they would expect to be able to do and what other things strike them as interesting.
  3. Encourage your test participants to always be broadcasting their internal monologue as they are performing the tasks so that you can tell when they've come across something that doesn't make sense, is unclear or when they're just plain lost.
  4. Some usability issues will be more serious than others.  And many times it's best to make a prioritized list of the biggest issues and then to work on improving, then testing your site repeatedly over time.

The cool thing about usability is that you don't often have to make a huge investment to get huge insights.  Don't get me wrong, I think really good experts in this area are worth every dime.   But if you are strapped for cash, you can get by on a shoestring usability budget.

Much More to Learn

testing usability(Thank you! Please read our book referral disclaimer)I've barely just cracked the usability testing surface in this post.  For more information, I'd recommend reading the brand new Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems, by Steve Krug.  In it he walks through the process of testing usability step by step.

Take our challenge this week. Show your site to someone who has never seen it and ask them what they think it is about. Share your results with other readers in the comments below.