Usability testing; key to any web project

November 13, 2006

I’ve been designing and building interfaces and websites since 1995, with all that experience under my belt you’d think I’d be one of those people who are averse to usability testing and happy to just use my own experience and knowledge to get the user interface right. I’m not!

Back in 1998 I created a portal for a segment of the financial services market. It was aimed at key decision makers within the insurance industry, so not the most web savvy or computer literate people in those days. We decided to perform our own user testing using the HCI students from the local university as facilitators for the sessions. The sessions went incredibly well, the feedback we gained was so useful it either validated our design decisions or gave us ideas for how to tweak and change things to get a better experience for our target audience. This experience has firmly rooted the idea of testing with live users in the development cycle of any project I am involved in.

Last week I went to a usability lab to test some prototype screens of a new development. I’d never seen prototypes tested before so was a bit dubious about how it would work. I’m used to having a nearly finished article for users to click there way through, I couldn’t see how we could get as much value from testing flat prototype images.

I was very wrong! The usability company were fantastic and the way they facilitated the sessions made all the difference. We sat and watched the users being talked through a journey on the site and it answered so many questions we had and validated so many others. I really can’t recommend getting your websites tested enough!

One word of caution though; usability companies work at their best doing usability testing. They will offer to review your designs etc but this is really not where they add the most value. The value is gained by having live users working their way through a journey on your new site and using the usability experts to facilitate and summarise the results. That’s what the usability companies are good at!

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