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Planning for User Testing

A usable site promotes a positive user experience, which in turn creates loyalty and trust. This translates into brand equity for the company. With so much at stake, it is not surprising that one of the leading reasons for redesigning a site is the need to make it more usable. Sites must cater to the end user. If your customers can't use your site, they won't come back. Bottom line: If your site isn't usable, your redesign will fail.

In this book, we mention usability testing frequently, always touting it as a truly effective method by which to test your site. But there are also other valid methods of gathering feedback and information (see the chart on the following page). Throughout the development process, learning about your audience — and making sure that your navigation, information design, and visual designs are working as you intended — can only raise the chances of the site being a success.

Developing a User Testing Plan

Decide here, while still building your Project Plan, how and where within the workflow you want to test your redesign project against your audience. You may want to conduct usability testing upfront on the existing site to see what specifically is in need of fixing. Perhaps you want to use an online survey to gather audience information to aid in the Discovery process. Maybe you want to conduct focus group testing as early as Phase 2 to gather outside opinions. The following overview descriptions of different testing will help you decide on methodology. Once reviewed, decide where you want to integrate it into your workflow and then communicate that on your schedules.

What Are Online Surveys?

Email and online surveys are a valuable way to gather feedback from large groups to reach statistically significant conclusions. This type of information gathering is best for general questions with yes/no answers and should not be used to amass feedback on specifics. Online surveying is one method for finding out about your audience's online habits, tastes, and needs as well as, perhaps most importantly, what about the current site does the respondent feel needs redesigning.

Surveys can be frustrating in that the response rate is generally low. On a mass emailing to a targeted group of site visitors, you may only get a 10% to 15% return. However, if you send out 500 surveys, even 50 responses are a lot with which to work.

What Is Focus Group Testing?

Focus group testing is used to gather opinions from and get into discussions with a representative cross-section of your audience. An advantage of focus groups is that you can test early in the process. Visual look and feel, content organization and presentation, and navigation — all these (and more) can be tested in focus group settings. Focus group testing seeks general and objective opinions. You may ask: "What do you think about this content organization?" or "What about this navigation? Is it logical?" or "What do you think about this advertising placement?" You may present several initial design directions and inquire which is preferred and why. Opinions from an independent but representative group give great insight as to whether you are on target with your assumptions. But remember, they are still only opinions.

What Is Usability Testing?

Usability is literally the "ease of use" or the understanding it takes to make something work. Website usability is the understanding of how an individual site visitor navigates, finds information, and interacts with a website. Unlike online surveys or focus groups, usability testing is a one-on-one process in a watch-and-learn approach — one person (the tester) observing another person (the end user) as he or she actually uses the site and completes tasks. Usability is goal oriented; the site visitor should have a series of specific tasks to perform when using the site but not step-by-step instructions. Leading your audience will skew your results.

Usability testing shows what site visitors actually do, not what they think they might do. This is invaluable. If testing is done during the actual development process, results can be incorporated, direction shifted, and major problems avoided. We go into far more detail on usability testing in Chapter 8.

Table .


Online/Email Surveys

Focus Groups

Usability Testing

50 to 1,000 participants, representative of target audience. No direct interaction. Statistically significant feedback.

8 to 20 participants. Valuable initial feedback and opinions. Facilitator-to-group interaction.

4 to 8 participants. Task/action oriented. Actual results based on observation, one-on-one interaction.

What they are generally thinking.

What they think they might do.

What site visitors actually do.

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