A group of association executives from a variety of organizations joined Jeff, Amy, and me last Friday, November 14 at the Greater Washington Board of Trade to talk about web usability testing and how it can improve the online member experience.
After a short networking reception and introductions, Amy, one of Beaconfire’s information architecture and usability consultants, led us through a brief discussion of what usability testing is and why it’s used. Often, when organizations are designing or redesigning their Web sites, the focus can end up being primarily internal. That can result in a site that makes sense to association staff but is incomprehensible to members and other constituents. Usability testing shifts the focus to the user to ensure that your audiences can find what they’re looking for and accomplish what they want to do online.
Amy recommended that usability testing should be a continuing process throughout the entire development and design project to keep the new Web site on track. Organizations sometimes skip usability testing because they fear it will be too costly. Amy dispelled that myth by sharing a general rule that, while well known among information architects, came as a bit of a surprise to the session participants: you can find 90% of the problems on a page with only five testers.
That said, there are a number of factors to consider when engaging in usability testing:
- Where are you in your process?
- What’s your budget, not only in terms of money but also of time and staff resources?
- Who are your audiences?
Amy and Jeff then walked through the various types of usability testing Beaconfire recommends, ranging from heuristic analysis, in which a small number of experts evaluate the Web site against a pre-determined set of usability criteria, through card sorting, which can be done face to face or online, into wireframe prototype testing and even post-launch function testing on the live site.
Amy then led two volunteers through a live wireframe prototype testing exercise both to demonstrate to the participants how usability testing works and to show how much can be learned just from asking two different people to try to accomplish the same task on a wireframe site.
For more information about usability testing, check out the presentation from Friday, read the BFWire interview on usability testing with Amy and Brad, another member of Beaconfire’s functional analysis team, or feel free to contact us to discuss your needs.