13 June 2017 - Mary Collins

Usability Testing. Sounds fancy, why should we?

Tips / UX

Great design isn’t just about simple aesthetics or about pleasing the client, but rather it’s about pleasing the end user. User experience invokes emotion and happy users make happy customers, which in turn makes happy and successful clients.

UX as a discipline is a massive field that industry leaders have been investing in for some time now, often hiring teams of UX specialists to work alongside their designers and developers to advance their digital products.

Whether you’re running a large online presence such as Amazon or Apple, or a much smaller one, we at Friday believe that the same principles of UX theory should be applied and scaled to benefit even the smallest online presence.

UX design is a core service provided by Friday, and a vital component of that offering is usability testing.

There are a plethora of UX research methods that are well documented and proven to give solid results. The range of methods can be divided into two broad categories; Qualitative and Quantitative.

Quantitative Research refers to statistical or numerical analysis of data obtained through surveys, card sorting exercises, or the analysis of existing data such as Google Analytics and/or A/B testing.


Quantitative data from an Exit Poll during the 2017 French Presidential Election. Source CNBC.

Qualitative Research is essentially exploratory research, including interviews, focus groups, eye-tracking, and of course Usability testing. To simplify the key differences, Qualitative tells us the “What?” and Quantitative gives the “Why?”.

It’s best to employ as many research methods as possible, the restraints will be budget and resources. There really is no excuse not to perform any level of user research on your website.

Here we will focus on the Quantitative method of Usability testing, which is a relatively quick and cheap method, but one that we’ve seen first hand can generate incredibly useful and often surprising results.

It will often highlight the issues that may be preventing your app or website from reaching its full potential with your user base.

Simply put, usability testing always pays off. We’ve never experienced a situation that hasn’t benefited from it.

Usability Testing Process

When we perform a usability test, first we will gather a group of people who match the profile of the target audience, (for example this might be women between the ages of 30 and 55 who shop online regularly ), and ask them to perform a specific action on the website.

Each user will perform the test in a controlled and monitored environment. They will be asked some background questions first to identify their position in the target market, age/gender/ occupation/internet usage etc.

They will then be made aware that they will be recorded for the purpose of the test and that this recording will not be shared with anybody outside of the project. We will explain that we are testing a product and not the testers themselves, and we will ask them to articulate their thought process as they navigate through the process. This will often mean progressing through a website slower than they might normally do in order to articulate each step of the process.

Clear impartial objectives will be given, which will vary depending on the product being tested and the particular component of the website that the test needs to focus on. For example, this might be to find a certain product on the site and complete the checkout process in order to test the organisation of products on a site and the ease of the checkout process.

While the user is performing this task, we will record both the screen and their facial expression, and take detailed notes on each step and pain point encountered by the tester. This will often uncover interesting issues in the process that might not have been noticed by a client or designer that are very familiar with the product being tested.

It’s important that the user is not steered or asked any leading or rhetorical questions.

As a general rule, 5 separate usability tests are enough to provide accurate test data for comparison (source). Once the tests have been performed and compiled, patterns can be identified where issues are present. For example perhaps 4 of the 5 users had clear difficulty finding the product on the site, indicating that the product organisation and presentation would need to be looked at.

Information can then be gathered and pooled using methods such as card sorting which helps to group and prioritise issues.


A Card Sorting session in action at Friday Agency studios.

Cost

Usability costs can be low if you can gather 5 friends or colleagues unfamiliar with the product to volunteer their time. You can also recruit existing customers by offering them a reward or voucher for their time. A usability test generally takes about an hour per tester.

In terms of the invaluable results that usability testing produces the investment is really quite small and should be considered as a key component of a digital product rather than an additional cost.

Benefits

Simply put, usability testing always pays off. We’ve never experienced a situation that hasn’t benefited from it.

Without usability testing, the design of a website will be dictated by a collaboration between designer and client. Both will approach the project with bias, be they aesthetic or assumptions on how the user will understand the product.

The only sure fire way to ensure that you can understand how your user is experiencing your service is to perform usability testing.

Analysing users behaviour, assumptions and pain points will reveal issues that you may not know existed, or didn’t think were relevant enough to warrant attention. Actually seeing a user’s frustration as they struggle to perform a task on the website can be a real eye-opener. If people are frustrated by your website they’re unlikely to proceed, and you could be losing customers because of some basic (and often easily fixed) usability issues.

We recently performed a usability test where users actually got so frustrated with the unclear pricing information on a website that they said they would abandon their cart in a real-life scenario. Seeing real-life users articulating such frustration gave us the undeniable proof that something needed to change here. In the end, it was a simple re-wording of the pricing information that completely transformed the user’s attitudes.

Usability testing will always indicate patterns and pinpoint the pain points of a users experience. That, in turn, will lead to solutions to resolve these pain points and ultimately lead to a good user experience for your customers.