3 usability testing myths (and why they’re not true)
Prototyping tools, user testing tools and agile design sprints combine forces to bust these 3 outdated usability testing myths, in a guestpost from UsabilityHub
In the early days of the internet, before Google become king and there was still a wild-west feel to the digital world, usability testing was a lot harder than it is now. Data was just as often gathered manually as digitally, meaning you had to physically find users, record their activities, question them and then draw conclusions. Analytics and information wasn’t as centralised or accessible, meaning you couldn’t easily gain or display data.
This drawn out process meant that some funky myths developed around usability testing. Now, when you consider “myths” you probably think of old, untrue but part of the fabric of society. Usability testing myths are kind of like that: they come from a time when everything digital was more difficult, less centralized, and there were many challenges in terms of acquiring relevant data. For any business that didn’t have loads of spare cash, usability testing was a mysterious, quasi-mythical process.
But many myths are shown to be based on outdated beliefs, and the usability myths from this era are no exception. So let’s debunk the 3 largest myths about usability testing and write a new chapter in the user testing book for everyone moving forward.
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Myth 1. Usability testing is expensive & time-consuming
Can you imagine the cost involved in bringing together user testers physically? The effort involved in creating the right tests, noting the right data and trying to find the correct conclusions? It’s no wonder that people believe usability testing is too expensive and time-consuming for most businesses to easily consider.
However in a world full of digital tools and resources, money and time are no longer the limiting factors they once were. This is true whether you’re conducting research using tools such as UsabilityHub to trial a new design with users, or Xlabs to determine how people are using a website. Maybe you’re using a Google Form to ask a user-base question, or Google Analytics to track where your users are coming from.
Tools such as those above are so easy to learn, come at such a minimal cost and provide such a wide variety of insights that you are never stuck for a new task to try. Want to test copy? Test prototypes? Test page layout? All this and more is possible with a few clicks in any of the myriad of usability testing tools available.
So don’t let time and money hold you back. Where this is a digital-will there is a digital-way just waiting to be found.
Myth 2. You must be a professional to conduct usability testing
Is it any wonder a designer, marketer or anyone else would be put off usability testing when titles like these abound on LinkedIn:
- Usability Analyst
- UX Research Manager
- Experience Design & Testing Manager
For many people usability testing IS their profession, and it’s always good to have a professional on board if the budget stretches to it. However, sometimes the budget just doesn’t have that stretch left in it. And much like the existence of chefs doesn’t stop anyone cooking at home, the fact that usability testing professionals exist shouldn’t stop you from trying your hand at usability testing.
To start, simply read-up on some user testing resources, such as the Interaction Design Foundation, UX Mastery and UX Booth to gain a solid grounding in how to tackle usability testing. There are also a huge variety of articles and blogs tackling specific subjects, meaning the knowledge you seek is just a few clicks away at any time.
Even better, when you do get around to testing, most tools themselves will offer advice and insights, simplifying the process for you. Not everyone who uses these tools are usability professionals after all, so they generally cater for a wide range of users.
The beauty of usability testing is that the decisions you make are not life and death. You can afford to make mistakes as you learn, with the opportunity to improve and get better. Like any work, practice makes perfect, and there is no time like the present to get started.
Myth 3. Usability testing should happen at the end of a project
In a time where an agile approach is best-practice there is no excuse to leave usability testing to the end of a project. The beauty of easy and quick user testing (as outlined in myth 1), is that it can easily be incorporated at the start, middle and end of projects without risking timelines or blowing budgets.
For instance, when creating a new brand you might test iterations of a logo to see which resonates best with consumers. From there, you might create a website, trial the wireframe to ensure it resonates with consumers, and then as the design process moves on test it again on an interactive prototype, to ensure you’re still on point. Finally, you could trial the overall experience; ensure the user-flows are correct and that it meets customer needs on all levels.
The reason why people have taken to incorporating testing at all stages is because it works. You get customer feedback early, you make smarter decisions, you save time and money by not building unnecessary features, thus gaining an insight into how to build new features to help you sell more. The benefits are all stacked and waiting.
How to do usability testing properly
Knowing how to conduct usability testing is a useful skill for UX designers. The best way to tackle a usability test is to follow a good, robust workflow that can help you achieve the results you want. In addition to a good work flow are some best practices that can make the process smoother and with fewer hiccups. There is nothing worse than getting into a project only to be continually tripped up by processes and errors that can be nipped in the bud early on. A good usability testing workflow means that you’ll be able to document what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it and the metrics you want to capture.
Let’s look at a good usability testing workflow:
First you want to consider the scope of the project. This means you’ll need to know what exactly you’re testing so you can get the answers you need. Be sure to be specific: are you testing the navigation? Or perhaps just content in this instance. Whatever you’re testing be sure you outline it in the scope. You can write this in a plain document for safe keeping.
Then you need to understand the reason for your usability testing. Essentially this concerns the goals of the usability testing: Is the information displayed in a coherent manner? Can the user get from A to B without frustration? And so on. If you need help understanding the purpose of your testing, creating user scenarios can be beneficial. Don’t forget at this stage to define any important metrics.
After you’ve outlined both the scope and purpose of your usability test then it’s time to consider a schedule and a location. This is where and when you’ll be carrying out the test. But also be clear about how many sessions you’re going to be testing and how long each session will be.
Now you need to plan the session; what the user will be doing during the testing stage. Describe the session in detail, including the length of time it will take to complete. Be generous with timing as usually you may end up running over or you’ll want to discuss things with the user.
Once you’ve done that you should be ready to carry out the test, providing that you’ve also outlined the import equipment that’s needed, found your participants and made it clear what everyone’s role is during the usability testing phase.