The Click #001
IT SOUNDS as exciting as grey cabbage, but user testing is the easiest way to improve your website.
The good news is that testing is really simple. With a bit of common sense, you can’t really do it wrong.
Sit someone (anyone: a neighbour, a toddler, a passer-by) down in front of a computer.
Get them to do something a typical user of your site would do: decide which accountant to use, decide which pie to buy, whatever.
Encourage the tester to keep talking. Ask questions like: when you clicked on that link what were you hoping to see? Which bit of the page draws your attention? What question would you liked answered now?
Scribble down anything you notice.
You can test your website at any time: before, during or after building it. My 2p is that the best times are:
- Before you start the project. Test users on 2 or 3 competitors’ websites (and your own, if you have a site you are redesigning).
- When you have designed the first draft (but before you have spent ages perfecting it).
What will the results be?
1. You’ll find that users struggle with totally different problems to the ones you worried about.
2. You will realise that there are lots of ways to use your site. ‘All web users are unique, and all web use is basically idiosyncratic’ says Steve Krug, writer of an entertaining book on web usability: Don’t Make Me Think.
3. Someone will always say they don’t like the colours. Don’t worry.
4. MOST IMPORTANTLY, you will have a list of obvious ways to improve your site. These are things that would have never occurred to you, even if you had spent a million years staring at your screen.
How many testers do you need? 5 is fantastic. 3 is good. 1 is dangerous (you might get unduly swayed by an unusual user). Check the science: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20000319.html
Don’t be tempted to email your friends with a rough design asking for feedback. The value of testing is seeing what users do and where they get stuck.
The last words of Seth Godin’s The Big Red Fez (a great little book on web design) are: “It’s not as good as it could be, but if you test it, it will get better".