How Do You KNOW If Your Website Is Doing Its Job? (PART 2 IN A SERIES ON WEB USABILITY)
This post continues a series informed by Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, by web guru Steve Krug. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this book, so I won’t try. You’ll just have to read it yourself (and you’ll thank me for suggesting it).
This week, I’d like to talk about testing.
“Wait, you mean, we’re going to be TESTED on this??”
Not on our blog, of course. I’m referring to user testing. Of your website. To see if people understand what you want them to understand, and can do what you want them to do.
“Ah, I see. Well, I don’t need to test. My website is very easy to use. Everything I want people to do is obvious and simple.” So we think.
Steve says a lot about usability testing in the book, and about how to do it. His guidance is very practical, and yet, I feel that many of us are going to think – “Isn’t usability testing something only big companies do? That’s not for me. I’m just a small business owner.”
In fact, usability testing is a big fancy word for what can be a big fancy process, with a video camera and screen recorder, and 10 test subjects, and a lab, and a listening room… but it doesn’t HAVE to be. Basically, the goal here is that you, as a person building a new website or redesigning a current one, arrive at your big website launching day (the day that your site goes live on the web) KNOWING that someone who has never heard of you or your product/service/information will still completely “get” your website. And that is a pricelessly blissful feeling.
That’s what we aim to create here at Parisleaf – pricelessly blissful feelings (regarding design and printing, of course). So, for that reason, let’s go over some steps you can take to make CERTAIN your site makes sense to anybody and everybody who might come to visit.
1. Basic Usability Testing, n. (and) v. : the act and occurrence of snagging a friend/colleague/your mom/the dog (provided he can use the internet), pulling him/her aside, and asking him/her politely to look over your website-in-progress to see if it makes sense. May also include the occurrence of receiving feedback about said website, such as “Where’s the search box?” or “Why on earth is the background purple?” or “What does (insert what you thought was a clever page title here) mean?” or “Hey, that’s neat!” (Note: Some types of feedback may be preferable to others.)
No joke – it can be that simple.
The best advice I can give you, though, is to not just sit there like a lump and let your “user” review your site half-heartedly (“Oh. Yeah, I like it. It’s great.”) Ask them questions. Do they know where the main menu is? What’s the first thing they think when they see the site? Do they know what you want them to do first? Do they understand your calls-to-action? Is anything confusing, off-putting, or cluttered? What do they like best about the site? Least? Ask your “user” for up to 20 minutes of their time, and let them talk. Do this with three different people, and write down what they say.
This probably isn’t Steve’s idea of a perfect usability test, but I think it’s much better than no test at all, and I think a lot more folks are willing to get into usability testing this way.
2. Test EARLY and OFTEN.
This is Steve’s idea of great testing, and there’s a good reason. If you start testing from the beginning, even when your homepage is just drawn on paper or mocked-up in photoshop, you’ll be able to correct major structural & design problems before they mean scrapping 40 hours of work on a nearly completed site because you just now realized that users don’t understand your navigation menu.
Also, keep doing it. At every phase of the design, keep testing. You’ll continue to catch things you can improve, and by the time you’re ready to launch, you’ll have a website that’s as close to perfect as you can get.
Now, if you get your website designed by Parisleaf, you know you’re working with a company that’s committed to creating a site that’s as user-friendly as we can make it. Usability is a major component of our design work.
At the same time, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to specific site designs. For instance, let’s say your user testing reveals that your choice of words for your call-to-action doesn’t actually mean to other people what it means to you – which means that, if you want people to engage with your business, you’ll need to say something they understand. That’s quite a handy thing to know BEFORE your site is live and you’re losing potential customers who are simply misunderstanding you.
One last tip…
3. Don’t take things personally.
It’s important to remember the big picture. You want your customers/clients to understand you. Understanding is the most important thing. Sometimes, you’ll feel that a piece of feedback (perhaps about color choices, etc.) isn’t in line with how you feel. My suggestion is that you carefully consider each piece of feedback, take it as information, and then use your own judgment when it comes to making changes to the site. If you test on at least 3 people, you’ll find that things like color and style are very individual preferences. However, you’ll also find that usability issues tend to affect everyone, regardless of whether they like the shape of your logo or not. The things that are most important to change will absolutely jump out at you after a round of testing – and those should be your priority.
More next week…
Love & Good Design,
Maria (Parisleaf’s friendly neighborhood Art Director)