It is not uncommon these days to hear horror stories about brands across the digital space releasing products, rolling out new website designs and even launching entire businesses without ever testing a single aspect. Sadly, the ease of entry to creating your own site or app has led to a market flooded with bad ideas, or worse, great ideas that were poorly executed. Fortunately, Usability Testing has grown from something only a couple designers once concerned themselves with to now a major consideration from top-level executives. As a digital-first agency, UNION understands the importance of Usability Testing and we pride ourselves on our ability to integrate best practices into our branded work. Likewise, more and more businesses are realizing the advantages and cost savings of thoroughly testing a design or prototype before it’s fully developed, when you can still quickly adapt to feedback.
Testing in the early stage also allows you to improve program and content understanding—addressing pain points that no one close to the project was able to identify. It allows you to tweak or fully realign content that sees lower engagement. Most of all, it can tell you if there will be sufficient returns to justify moving forward with a new design or launch. 65% of industry execs indicated in a 2016 survey that their testing budgets were projected to increase either moderately or significantly in 2017.
If you haven’t already implemented Usability Testing in your business, here’s what you need to know.
What Does Web Testing Look Like?
In order to begin testing, you need to first identify what exactly you are testing and why. Is it a new feature on your website? A new site design entirely? A mobile app? Each of these will be treated differently when it comes time to test.
In an ideal world, testing begins at the very conception of your idea and again at subsequent stages of the project build. You’ll want to first answer questions like, “Is there demand for this product or concept? Is this something my target audience is interested in? Am I making a valid improvement or solving an existing pain point?”. This would typically occur seven to nine months prior to launch. Once you’ve validated your concepts, used wireframe testing to confirm user flow and assessed whether you have a minimum viable product—one that customers are able to understand and engage with—you must then test the entire process from start to finish.
If you’re not utilizing testing from concept to launch, you should have at least one round of testing before your program moves into development. The best timing for this approach would be once you have fully-baked creative, before you've moved into development. Making changes after a launch is not only far more costly to build, but can also come with a loss in brand value if you’re facing backlash from a poor first impression and negative press.
Usability Testing Best Practices
Test Before You Test
Before you begin Usability Testing, be sure your product has undergone extensive quality assurance testing internally. Testing a buggy app that doesn’t perform as it should is a waste of everyone’s time and of your money. Test your design across all devices and platforms that will be utilized.
Choose A Moderator
When vetting a moderator, definitely try to find someone who is an unbiased third party, not tied to the project in any way. This allows for your best chance at data that is not weighted or compromised. Also, whoever you select should be similar to your target audience to help build rapport. With that in mind, consider having both a male and female moderator to see if it yields greater interaction with your various test subjects. Giving your subjects the best chance to be themselves gives you your best chance at a successful test.
Use a Script
Writing a script for your tests ensures that answers between respondents can be accurately compared and that no specific question is overlooked throughout the process. Have your script reviewed by several internal stakeholders (from managers to developers) to ensure all necessary questions are included. Lastly, your script should allow for those testing the product to do most of the talking. No directions as to how to use the site or where to go next should ever be included. You want to see where they stumble on their own so you can address these issues in your next iteration.
Find the Right Participants
Test your design with people who would actually use it. Include key buyer personas in your user base and make sure testers have varying levels of digital acumen. Be mindful to include a breadth of relevant users, factoring in demographics such as gender, age, income, education, location, etc. This should make sure the feedback you get is more balanced and well-rounded.
Be sure to also include members from your internal team, such as the designers and developers working on the project. Anyone that plays a role in how fast and how well that problem is addressed should be involved. As Aaron Walter, VP of R&D at MailChimp notes, “You want the people that are designing and building the software to squirm in their seat as they watch the customer struggle and get confused because if they feel that pain and discomfort, they’re going to run straight back to their desk to fix it.”
Be Conscious of Time
Depending on the product or design you’re testing, your process may look completely different. Some may be testable using a static design tool like InVision, saving the investment in writing live code. Testing an app or landing page may not require fully fleshed-out content or creative, but will require full functionality. The key is to identify as early as possible which specific feature you will be testing and to roll out only the minimum necessary development to get it done. The less you do, the less money you need to spend changing it.
Fight the Bias
Bias is natural in a project you are close to: do your best to overcome it. Listen to comments that are repeated again and again and disregard outliers—even if its a passionate comment but from just one person. Ideally, your testers will be thinking out loud as they work their way through the process, helping the impartial moderator to understand exactly where changes need to be made and why something didn’t work or didn’t make sense.
Your moderators should stick to the script and take notes to ensure they don’t mis-remember any feedback. Before a user leaves, have your moderator poll the stakeholders involved for any remaining tasks or questions. As soon as you have enough repetitive feedback, take a break to adjust the testing going forward and validate the changes.
After the Test
Naturally, when testing is complete you will be making updates in line with the feedback you received and potentially testing again before launch. As you move through each stage, you may get feedback that requires you to implement large scale adjustments to your launch or even scrap it altogether—heed it. One of the reasons many product launches fail, according to the Harvard Business Review, is not only lack of testing, but inability for a company to listen to the results.
Whether your UX is not intuitive, your app doesn’t have a viable market, or your new roll-out is too hyped internally for criticism to be believed—this is where Usability Testing provides its ROI. While testing and making changes can save you the cost of failure—both financially and to your brand’s reputation—any testing you do is only as valuable as the changes you’re willing to make.