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5 myths preventing you from usability testing

As the User Experience team grows at Q2, our usability testing strategy rapidly matures with it. We partnered with 8-Bit-Bear Consulting for formal testing on our developed products every few months, which helps us detect areas of our app that are difficult to use and identify solutions to optimize those features. We are also disrupting the normal testing process by weaving in informal, in-house testing into our sprint cycles, ameliorating problems before they transition from prototyping into development.

8-Bit-Bear Consulting : http://www.8-bitbearconsulting.com/

 

How have these tactics helped us?

Our efforts have resulted in a significant improvement to our System Usability Scale (SUS) score, but more importantly, we’re beginning to see the trickle-up effect of account holders contacting their financial institutions about their positive online banking experience.  While Q2’s mission is to build stronger communities by strengthening their financial institutions, our design team believes we can strengthen financial institutions by creating happier account holders.

 

How can they help you?

Dedicating some of your project’s budget to usability testing can boost your bottom line in a powerful way: Jakob Nielsen reported that spending 10 percent of a project’s budget on usability evaluation results in a whopping 84 percent increase in conversion rates. This translates into increased revenue for e-commerce sites, and for software that doesn’t make money directly off of successfully completed tasks, it means less annoyed users, less costly development rework, less support calls, and a greater overall level of user trust in your brand.

 

What usability myths are keeping you from success?

 

Myth 1: Usability testing demands an elaborate recruiting process

It’s best practice to test users that are representative of your product’s target market.  That said, testing any users is far better than testing no users, so don’t let the hunt for the perfect user stop you from testing.  A screener, or list of carefully selected questions intended to weed out users that don’t match the profile of your target audience, can affordably optimize your recruiting process.

Infragistics Senior UX Architect Jim Ross’s tips for writing great screeners include keeping the list of questions bearably short, starting with the questions most likely to eliminate testers so as not to waste their time, and recruiting based on the behaviors and attitudes you are looking for as opposed to less meaningful demographics.

 

Myth 2: We’d have to test a lot of users to get meaningful results, and we don’t have the time

The number of users you need to recruit for a usability study is much smaller than you might assume.  Nielsen advocates testing only five users, as the first handful of users has been shown to uncover the majority of usability issues, and each subsequent user becomes significantly less valuable to the study.  At Q2, my design partner and I employ Nielsen’s suggestion of testing only five users, then using the results to quickly iterate on our prototype, and testing again in a few weeks.  This way, we have continual reassurance that our designs are moving towards optimized usability without wasting time and resources.

 

Myth 3: Testing requires costly software and recording equipment

While some high-tech testing tools purport to automatically interpret users’ facial expressions, the reality is that such software can only detect strong emotions, and we as humans can do a better job at interpreting each others’ subtle expressions.  Simple, inexpensive programs like Screencast-O-Matic are more than enough, as they allow you to record a screen capture, audio, and a video of the user for a $15/year subscription.  Smashing Magazine also provides a robust comparison of affordable user testing tools that is worth checking out.

 

Myth 4: We’d have to hire a third party consultant, and it’s not in our budget

There is value in performing formal summative testing with a team of experts, as Q2 does with 8-Bit-Bear.  But if your company doesn’t have room in the budget for such services—and even if you are regularly using third party consultants—I argue that you should be performing informal in-house testing on a regular basis.  Iterative, formative testing allows you to evaluate prototypes while they are in progress, stopping major issues at the design stage before developers waste their time building something that isn’t usable.

Catching issues early isn’t the only benefit to formative testing in-house; involving the project team in usability testing will help them feel more invested in fixing them.  Watching users struggle through a task in real-time has much more of an impact on designers, developers and product owners than reading (or not reading) a long usability test report.

 

Myth 5: We don’t have the skills to perform in-house testing

While I don’t advocate moderating a usability test without bothering to educate yourself on best practices, it’s really not rocket science.  You will need to learn how to write effective tasks, for which MeasuringU has a great list of tips.  You should also make your tester feel comfortable, assure them that there are no right or wrong answers, allow them to speak without interrupting, and refrain from leading them to solutions.  Pairing up with another moderator in your sessions (as we do at Q2) will keep you honest, and one of you can ask questions while the other takes notes.

 

Now what?

With a little bit of practice, anyone with listening skills and an ability to remain impartial can learn to conduct a usability testing session. And while fancy equipment and a perfect recruiting process are nice to have, you can still get meaningful results with low-budget testing. Our user experience team is passionate about this topic and we would love to hear your thoughts. Share your insights on our social media pages.

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