Usability testing is a phase in the development process that often gets overlooked, shortchanged, or outright stricken out of project plans. Sometimes usability testing is ruled out because of time constraints, other times it’s because of a lack of resources such as equipment or expertise. On other cases, it may just seem like running a usability test is overkill for your project. But you don’t have to be running a Nokia usability lab to make usability testing a worthwhile exercise. Nno matter how small or trivial your project may be, you will always benefit from doing at least a little testing. Here are five reasons why you should do usability testing.
Reason 1 – Planning for Usability Testing Helps Keep Your Project On Track
Even if it only gets one row in the GANTT chart, having usability testing as a step in your overall project plan will give you a tangible goal to work towards that will help you move forward on your overall project.
In order to run any form of usability test, you will need to come up with mockups or prototypes of some form – be it crude Photoshop mockups or paper prototypes, or functional wireframes with a bare bones design – you need to have something to run the test on.
In this respect, having usability testing as part of your project plan helps break your big project down into smaller, more manageable chunks, which in turn helps you keep on top of your progress.
Reason 2 – Usability Testing Will Teach You Things You Didn’t Know Before
If you get a chance to do usability testing with a good variety of your targeted end-users, you may be surprised at what you find. Quite often, new insights come from watching someone use your website. What was natural and intuitive to you and your team suddenly doesn’t seem so logical when 4 out 5 of your testers can’t complete the task you originally set out for them to do.
Usability testing also gives your site a fresh set of eyes to help uncover new ideas and even possibly new features to add to your site. Sometimes it’s just a passing comment from one of your testers that might spawn the idea for a new core feature that you would never have thought of on your own.
You and your team probably also have some hunches on what will work with your target audience – maybe it’s something like a colour scheme to something more complex like the steps required to recover your username and password. Usability testing gives you that feedback to confirm your hunches.
Reason 3 – Usability Testing Gives You Data to Back Your Decisions
Unless you’re working on a personal project without any real accountability to another stakeholder or client, odds are the website or application you are working on will have to go through some levels of approval and sign off. In this process, you will be questioned about a design decision or asked to squeeze something else in. For example:
- Why is the font so small?
- Is there a reason why we can’t use the full width of the page?
- We have another 12 links that need to get into the sub navigation. Where can we put them in?
- That link down there needs to go into the top row of links on the homepage. Why isn’t it there?
- The photo on the homepage needs to be bigger. Like, way bigger. Like, ten times bigger than it is right now.
Usability testing has the potential to give you instant data to help back your design decisions. Armed with information gleaned from watching real people actually use your site (or working prototype), you will have greater credibility and more to stand on than just your opinion. Usability testing will give you real metrics you can use to support your position.
Reason 4 – Usability Testing Gives You Documentation that You Can Re-use for Future Projects
If you do a good job of documenting the findings from your usability testing, that whole process itself will serve as a valuable start the next go-around. Depending on the type of project and work being done, you may even be able to use the findings from previous tests to help get you and your team off on the right foot moving forward on your next project.
Similar to how usability testing gives you data to help defend your decisions to clients and stakeholders, that same data arms you with some information that you can use yourself. This is particularly useful when you’re confronted with making a seemingly arbitrary decision during your design phase.
Having a completely blank slate with endless possibilities and no constraints can actually be a very challenging and even frustrating space to design in – this is when arbitrary decisions are at their worst. It’s much easier to make a design decision when you have some form of constraint or guideline, really anything that can set you in one direction. And this is exactly what previous usability testing results can sometimes provide. With some baseline information on what worked and what didn’t work in the last design, you now have a starting point for this next design.
Reason 5 – Usability Testing Gives You an Opportunity to Field Test New Ideas
Usability testing doesn’t have to always be about testing something you’ve created. In fact, quite often, you could use the same exercise to test something that is, at this stage, nothing more than an idea.
In sales they would call this something like the foot in the door technique where you get someone to agree to a large request by first having them agree to a smaller one. What you’d want to do here is a little less sinister and more along the lines of trying to make the most of this valuable time you have with and end-user of your site.
Run your usability test and get your data, but then also try running some of your as-of-yet-unproven ideas and see what sort of feedback you get.
Face it, there’s definitely some administrative overhead that comes with running usability tests. If nothing else, there’s the simple task of scheduling and taking the time from people’s days to get them into the sessions. You might as well make the best use of this time and use it as a real opportunity to uncover some of the most valuable information you’ll get.
But Wait, There’s More!
This is all fine and dandy, but let’s bring this back full circle – what if you’re under a tight timeline, or don’t have the budget to get a robust usability test into your project cycle? All this is a lot of fluff if you can’t actually run the tests.
Well, usability testing doesn’t have to be that hard, and it can be done at any time in your development lifecycle – even after you’ve launched. You probably already engage in some form of usability testing yourself when you’re building your websites or applications, probably without even realizing it. We’ll go into these and other topics in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, let me know what you think! Why else would you do usability testing? Or why shouldn’t you do usability testing? If you’ve wanted to do usability testing before, why haven’t you? What’s holding you back?