By Stephanie Aanstoos, Account Executive
Can you think of a website you’ve been to where the functioning, layout or design drove you crazy? Chances are, you can think of many. Visit http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com, if you need some examples. There are plethora of things that can make a website “suck” and most of the time, it’s just one component (rather than a montage of horrific design choices, like with those profiled in the site above). A problem could be that the navigation bar isn’t consistent throughout the website, there are dead-end pages, the most important information is hard to find or the color scheme causes poor readability. Whatever the case may be, website flaws are often overlooked by the site designer but drive the site users mad.
So, how do you prevent this from happening to you? Simple: talk to your audience.
Feedback is priceless. By communicating with the users of your website and conducting usability tests, you will be able to dramatically improve your website and make your audience happier. Having just completed a website usability and design class at Florida State, I have seen first-hand how beneficial and cost effective this tool is!
Below are five common myths when it comes to website usability testing. By debunking these common misconceptions, I hope to show you why you should conduct website usability tests.
1. It costs too much and takes too long.
Conducting a usability test can be surprisingly inexpensive, especially if you can do it in-house. If you’re testing before the site is built (as you ideally should), simple, low-tech paper-prototypes actually work best – no expensive equipment needed! Also, you only need to do approximately six tests! Studies show that after asking testing on six different people, you are highly unlikely to uncover any additional insights through further testing.
2. You won’t find out anything you didn’t already know.
Actually, you’d be surprised. Especially if you did not conduct any usability tests during the creation of the site, there are likely a handful of aspects you’ve overlooked. You may also think that if there is a big problem, someone would have told you already. That’s probably not the case either. What may actually seem like a small problem could be causing a big problem in your overall brand image.
3. Designers know what they’re doing, so there is no reason for usability tests.
No matter how great the designer is, they’re not always right. Working too hard at making a site look aesthetically pleasing can cause severe lacking in functionality and visa-versa. You can have a site that functions great and looks terrible, and it will have the same negative effect on the perception of the end user. Form and function must go hand-in-hand; you will find out how well your site accomplished both through usability testing.
4. I can just conduct a focus group and get the same results. Focus groups and usability tests are quite different and therefore, generate much different results. What people say and what people do can be surprisingly inconsistent. It is important to observe test subjects going through the prescribed tasks and then getting feedback, rather than just talking to them about it. You could always do a focus group with the test subjects after, but seeing the individual, uninfluenced test results first is crucial. As Chris Gieger summarizes in this article, “focus groups are about understanding people’s feelings and opinions about something whereas usability tests are about learning how people use things.”
5. It is too difficult, and you need special training to understand usability tests. Wrong, again. While professionals with experience in usability testing and website design may be able to do a better job, that doesn’t mean you cannot uncover insights yourself that will tremendously benefit your website. You’ll just need to learn a few basics to conducting website usability tests, and you are on your way to creating a better website. Here is one of many resources to help get you started: http://usabilitygeek.com/an-introduction-to-website-usability-testing/
Now that we’ve busted these common myths about usability testing in web design, I hope you now realize how beneficial testing can be when you’re creating a site, or even for an existing site. It’s never too late to make improvements.
Good luck and happy testing!