How can you be sure that your website's or your app's design has been created for the USER? 

It might seem  as a silly question to you: “of course that everyone's designing with the “user” in mind!”All web designers embark on their designing adventure with good intentions, meaning that they do start their projects with the User in mind, but what if they lose their “designing for the user” mindset somewhere along the way?

How do you know whether your web product reaches out to users, if, let's say, it's just your team that will have played the role of the “user” during testing?

Is your company falling into one of these 2 categories?
 

  1. companies that don't see the point (or that find it too time-consuming and budget-challenging) in turning usability testing into an essential step to take before any new web project's launch
     
  2. companies that over-complicate the usability testing process and which can't rip the major benefits
     

Then this blog post is for you!

It's a two-purpose post, so to say:
 

  • it's meant to answer all your dilemmas on whether usability test does worth your effort or it's just an unnecessary part of your web development process
     
  • it's also a step-by-step guide on how to plan, conduct and document your usability tests. Thus clearing away all the confusion surrounding this process.

So, let's proceed, shall we?
 

Why Should You Even Bother Running a Usability Test?

As a company owner, just try stepping into your your team's web designer(s) shoes: you're charged to do some sort of “hocus pocus” in order to ensure the ideal overall experience of the website/app that you're working on! And try to carry out your task as you're fully aware that “user experience” is an overwhelming vague and, at the same time, highly comprehensive component of your design and that flaws do happen during the design process. 

There's no point in denying that!

How do you pull off this “ideal overall experience”? How do you know which are the “ideal parameters” of this “overall” experience?

Get it? Without some reliable UX research results at your disposal, you'll be relying exclusively on guessing and “finger crossing” strategy as you put together your design.

This is why usability testing makes such a powerful tool, when handle rightly! A tool that will point out to you the UX flaws in your design and, implicitly, the solutions for overcoming them, as well.

Now let's continue with our step-by-step guide to usability testing:
 

Set Your Goals

One first caveat: avoid vague goals such as “understanding how the new navigation menu works”!

You goals can go from broad to specific (e.g. “which checkout method increases conversion rate on our website”). Either way, do keep in mind to avoid “shooting two birds (or more) with one stone”, if you know what we mean!

Don't lose focus!

Meaning that you should sift through your super long list of questions, to cut it down to the truly essential ones about your web product. The more accurate the questionnaire, the more accurate will your usability test results be.

Same for your objectives: it's better to go for a short list, one tackling only the most relevant issues of your product.
 

Determine The Type of Usability Test That You'll Conduct 

Before we jump straight to classifying the usability tests that you can choose from, we feel like highlighting the fact that: there's no such thing as “better or worse”! Only a matter of “suitable or not”. A matter of whether it's the appropriate one for your specific goal!

This being said, these are the tests you can select from and incorporate into your usability session:
 

  • scripted: which allows you to target specific goals; your test participants' interactions with your web product are determined by a clear set of instructions, this enabling you to aim at and to analyze individual elements (e.g. a tree test, a hallways usability test)
     
  • natural (or near-natural): a test where you analyze and interpret the user's behavior in his/her natural environment, thus collecting more accurate impressions and data (A/B testing, diary studies etc.)
     
  • decontextualized: it targets more generalized concepts and triggers broad opinions rather than pinpointing your specific web product (user interviews, surveys etc.)
     
  • hybrid: quick exposure memory testing, adjective cards, participatory design; in other words tests aimed at grasping the test participants' mentality(s)
     

The next step to take once you've determined which usability test(s) is appropriate for your own user testing process, is to go ahead and to put together a document for your whole team. One summarizing your tactics and a plan of how the whole usability session will be carried out.
 

Start Working On Your User Tasks

What exactly will you get your test participants to do? This is THE question!

Now before you start to actually put together your user tasks, keep in mind that everything will impact the way they'll carry out their tasks: from phrasing to content, even the slightest details can hinder a proper understanding of your questions! Stay away from bias!

With that aspect in mind, decide whether it's “closed” or “open” tasks that you'll challenge your users with. Or maybe both!

Let's detail:
 

  • open user task: offers participants multiple ways for completing it, leading to qualitative results
     
  • closed user tasks: come with “success or fail” type of question, nothing in-between, no room for interpretation
     

Two extra tips to consider when writing your user tasks:
 

  1. handle the power of verbs rightly: ask your users “to describe” or “to demonstrate”, therefore do stay away from tricky verbs deviating you from your “pathway to accuracy”, such as the verb “understand”. Some of the “good” verbs that you could insert in your user tasks are the “call to action” ones: “demonstrate”, “evaluate”, “describe”, “organize”
     
  2. establish what you want your test participants to achieve by the end of this test. What should they be able to do by the end of this usability session? Try answering this question before you start creating your user tasks!
     

Tip: try sticking to 5 test users! It's the “magic” number, so to say, when it comes to usability testing. Less participants won't signal all the possible UX flaws that your design might have, while more than 5 users will automatically lead to experience overlap. To users signaling the same problems!

Who said this should be a time-consuming, overly complex process? Nonsense! You get the best results by just sticking to a sequence of 5 user tests. That's all! No need for a “marathon” here!
 

Boil an UX Research Plan Document 

A one-page document will do. No need to “stuff” it with information and unnecessary details, lest you should discourage everyone from your team, from marketers to developers to executives.

Here's what this plan should include:
 

  • the reasons why such an UX research was needed (keep it short: one paragraph will do)
     
  • the usability session's essential objectives to be reached
     
  • the questions prepared for your test participants
     
  • the tactics involved: when, where and how you'll run your usability test
     
  • a few words about each one of your 5 participants
     
  • the timeline
     
  • the test script itself (https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/01/ux-research-plan-stakeholders-love/#a-sample-ux-research-plan)
     

Make it as concisely and “easily digestible” as possible, but without risking to leave out anyone of these key sections or crucial information to be added to each one of them.
 

Now Go Ahead and Conduct Your Usability Test

And this is it: after all the planning, selecting the right test participants, running your own UX research, putting together your timetable and writing the test documentation, you'll be finally conducting your usability session!

As for the testing process itself, our team of Toronto developers has some key advice for you:
 

  • make your test participants feel comfortable: reassure them that it's not them that you'll be testing, they're not the “target” (so there's no right or wrong answers) but your product's design itself
     
  • record your usability session
     
  • give them them space
     
  • collaborate: allow your test participants to record their own interpretations, as well, so they can compare them, later on
     

Write a Usability Report and Share It With Your Team

Now it's time that you make sure that everyone in your team is on the same page. That they're all well informed about the results of your usability test, so that they can steer their work-related initiatives and decisions accordingly.

Now speaking of this report, we've put together a list of tips and tricks to consider  when you start drafting it:
 

  • prioritize the problems signaled during the test: no need to include even the slightest, the obvious issues
     
  • be explicit: stay away from vague phrasing and try to be clear and concise explaining the very “root” of every issue
     
  • recommend a few possible improvements to be made
     

Now if you allow us some more recommendations: don't limit to a one-page report, but feel free to include any charts or graphs, the questionnaire itself, audio tracks and so on into your report. Go for a whole folder-report, not just for a simple file-report.

And this is it! Hopefully we've managed to give a clear answer to the “Why Bother With a Usability Test?” question and to put together a helpful step-by-step guide on how to conduct your next usability session.

One last piece of advice: no need to wait until your web project is nearly ready to be launched! Do run several usability tests during its development process, so that you can collect enough insightful data and to use them for improving your website/app before it's too late.

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