Out of all the usability research methods, Usability Tests (UTs) are by far the most rewarding.
UTs will help you to answer all the basic questions:
- What do I know about my users?
- How worthwhile is it implementing that great idea?
- My friends say it's looking good. But what about my visitors?
If you find a better way to answer these questions, feel free to shout us.
Usability tests can be exhausting and frustrating but are highly revealing and ultimately not as difficult or expensive as one might think.
All the nagging questions that you may have about whether your product works (read "product" as a website or that great idea of yours) will be answered when your users see it, try it and kill it.
Yes, "kill it" because they will. Remember I said frustrating? This is what you will feel every time a user misses that big "BUY HERE" button that you thought you had placed in the "right" place. Or when they suggest dumping that fantastic photo that took hours of your precious time.
UTs are fascinating, exciting, intriguing exercises that really unveil a true picture of your users, their needs and their wants.
Is it that difficult? Do I need professional help?
I have run multiple UTs with participants all around the globe. While I don't mean to give the impression that I've come up with the magic formula for the perfect test, I have amassed enough experience over the years to be reasonably confident in my ability to run a set of tests without losing my mind in the process.
I may not have the magic potion for a successful test but I have collected enough knowledge to run a set of usability tests without losing my mind.
What do I need to do?
Easy!! Is it really? If you prefer the unsugared-coated version embrace yourself for a bit of a longer story.
1. Recruiting: By far the most difficult step and at the same time the one that has the most impact. I have always done it myself just armed with my inbox.
Who to recruit: As you can imagine it depends on your audience and what exactly you want to test.
Let's say you want to try a new app for time management or a new VR system. Sure, dear old grandpa has the time and wants to help you. However, grandpa may not be the best candidate:
- Not your typical audience and hardly very objective
- You will need to find volunteers that match your Personas
Objective judgement is critical; it's not only family and friends who do not measure up. In my last recruiting I found 2 very eager volunteers, after a while I found their ulterior motive was getting a job in the company behind the website being tested. These two individuals were not very sincere in their feedback and tried their best to be positive about the website.
How to find the right people: surveys, online recruiting services, newsletter subscribers, social media followers. Basically, people that know your website or belong to a niche that will be interested in the content/product that your offer.
2. Schedule sessions: This may be as simple as agreeing on a time and place. In my experience, I have always gone for remote sessions usually with users from different countries. This is where the challenge begins, matching time zones, avoiding language barriers etc.
Make sure your volunteers dedicate the time slot entirely to your test.
3. Prepare the test: Imagine you have 30 minutes with your favourite music star or your childhood sweetheart. Wouldn't you have a fair idea what would you want to say or ask?
Same here, preparation is key and this is where all your efforts should be concentrated.
Make sure the questions are not suggestive but task oriented.
A reasonable time for a usability test is between 30 and 45 min; this will allow you to go through a maximum of 6 to 10 questions. Out of those the first 3-4 are oriented to the profile of your user, knowing who they are and what motivates them. The other questions should be more task-focused allowing you to see them in action interacting with your site/app.
Here are a few questions I always include:
- How often do you visit this site?
- What would be the reason for you to visit this site?
- Can you show me how you would search for?
- Can you show me how you would go to?
- What would you expect to happen if you did?
4. Meet and shoot: At the time of the usability test make sure of two things:
- Always remember that you are there to observe not to guide.
- Accept that you may have to be a little rude and drive the conversation back to the goals you've set.
Sound too much like hard work? Not really. Keep it simple but focused.
After the first couple of sessions, it will start to feel natural to sit back and observe quietly. It will help you to slowly adapt to your users and their behaviours and ultimately be able to translate all that into your product to ultimately offer a better experience.
Usability tests in a nutshell?
- Recruit volunteers: family and friends are out.
- Prepare the test: have your questions lined up
- Schedule sessions: dedicated time and place
- Meet and shoot: sit back and observe
- Repeat: As often as you can practice makes perfect!
What tools have you used to test your website? Tell us in the comments!