We’ve all seen it countless times: a product launch fails due to a flaw so obvious we wonder how the developers could have missed it. Some of these design flaws are easy to fix with a few code tweaks, but others can be more severe, even disastrous. Regardless, the company could have avoided it if they had only conducted a usability test.
Many organizations shy away from usability testing due to common misconceptions that it is difficult to conduct. In reality, usability testing is an easy way to dramatically decrease risk of failure. Once we dispel these misconceptions, it becomes clear just how easy and effective the practice can be.
Usability starts with understanding users
Most organizations today conduct some type of research on their target audiences before they begin a big project. This includes interviews, surveys, reviewing analytics, etc. In order to create great products or services, however, you must first gain a deep understanding of the people that use them. This requires attentiveness, empathy, and using multiple user research methodologies—including usability testing.
In my experience, pushback to usability testing usually falls into one of the following categories.
- Awareness: “Usability what?”
- Assumptions: organizations believe they already have what they need. “We already have analytics…”
- Lack of resources: “We don’t have the time, budget, …”
The last pushback usually stems from the misconception that conducting usability testing requires several months and a lab staffed with scientists in white coats.
Making the case for testing
Testing (usually) doesn’t have to be complicated, and depending on your needs, it doesn’t have to involve an army of participants. In fact, testing with five people will uncover the majority of usability issues on your digital products. Could you afford a few extra days to find most usability issues before you even begin development? Of course you could.
Through its legacy as CHIEF and ByteCubed, U.Group has been conducting user research for over 30 years. We’ve run everything from extensive discovery work for large government agencies like FTC and Department of State to smaller one-off studies tackling specific usability issues for projects as they arise. With the passage of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA), we will continue to help our government improve the digital experiences for its users.
One of the key pieces of this landmark legislation includes the mandate to design user-friendly digital services. Since designing with users in mind first requires an understanding of real users, it is clear that usability testing will be a vital part of effective compliance. This includes using qualitative and quantitative data and continually testing to ensure that user needs are being met. Qualitative testing might include five second tests, user interviews, A/B testing, or usability testing during any and all phases of design. In conjunction with other feedback tools and processes, this will give you a holistic understanding of your product or service.
How to set up a usability test
From sketches to prototypes or final products, you can test your ideas at any point in the design process. The goal with testing is to get feedback from real users, which will help you better understand how they use your product. So how do you set up a test?
- Determine what you are going to test. We recommend you pick one item or task to test.
- Recruit and schedule participants. You can do this yourself or hire an outside service. If you choose to do it on your own, make sure you’re selecting the right users for the test.
- Have a test script and a test plan, complete with a checklist. The script will keep your test consistent and the test plan with checklist will help ensure that everything runs smoothly.
- Have a facilitator and a note taker. Trying to do both (if you cannot record the session) is ill advised. Plus, you will have another person to confer with.
The goal is to get feedback from your users early and often to make sure your designs solve the right problems. Used with other research methods, these tests will give you a better understanding of your users and set your project up for success. So don’t end up like one of those poor teams described above whose product launched with a fizzle—set up your usability test plan today!