The best way to discover how well your website or application works is to watch and analyse real users interacting with it. Usability testing is one of our key service offerings and we have a huge amount of experience in this area. We decided to share our insight by providing these top tips and hope this helps anyone who is thinking about doing some usability testing.
Here's our top 10 tips to get started:
It's never a bad time to test
No matter what stage the website is at, Information Architecture, wireframe, build or live, testing will always come in handy. Yes, you might find out that the website needs a lot of improvements but would you not rather identify these and have happy users who can find exactly what they are looking for?
Getting the right participants
It's important that you test with the right users; ones that actually represent the end users of the site or application you're testing. So, make sure you understand your audience, their behaviours, demographics and needs.
Conduct some pre-test research to make sure you’re getting the right people. This could be as simple as a quick telephone interview to ensure that they meet the criteria. Also, getting people to come into the lab and spend over an hour of their time is a big ask, so offering an incentive is the best way to get people interested. This could be cash, a voucher or any other valuable offer that will appeal to your participants.
If you feel like the participant was really good in the session, ask if you can keep them on your database with all their information. You never know when you might need them again.
Always record the sessions
As much as taking notes is helpful, you will never capture all the important information you need from each session. Get a video recorder, point it to the screen from behind the participant and record everything. It means you can watch all of your participants back once you are finished and it's useful to use as proof when presenting to clients. I mean how can anyone argue with you if you have video evidence playing right in front of their eyes. We would still suggest, if possible, having someone in the session with you taking notes as you go.
Make the participant feel comfortable
To get the best results from your participants they have to feel relaxed and under no pressure. Make sure you tell them they're not being tested and that you're only interested in their feedback. Tell them that their name and face will not be disclosed to anyone else but you and spend some time speaking about something other than the session you are about to do. Gaining their trust means a comfortable session for the participant and better results for you.
Avoid the one-way mirror
Often people use a one-way mirror so that people can secretly see whatever is going on. I don't like this approach because it creates an unnatural environment and risks influencing feedback.
Check out our other blog post mirror, mirror, on the wall.
Silence is Golden
We are well aware that as human beings we like to fill the silence but it's so important you don't when doing usability testing. Give the participant as much time as they need and let them vocalise their thoughts. Try and give the participant time to think and remember that you aren't learning if you are talking. Don't forget, it also gives you time to review your test plan and keep an eye on the clock!
Don't push your opinions
Everyone has an opinion, even the person conducting the session, but it's important that the participant isn't influenced by this opinion. Try not to spin the results to meet your goals. Ask open, non-leading questions for optimum results.
Don't make the session too long
We are all human and humans get bored. Keeping the sessions short is the best way to ensure reliable results. We try to make the sessions no longer than an hour.
Always ask for feedback
Use your instinct. Yes, the participant might have completed the task correctly but that doesn't mean they don't have an opinion about another aspect of the website. Make sure they know that you are open to a discussion about any element of the website. Be ready for anything.
A test plan is key to success. This helps you to keep the session focused and ensures that each participant is being asked the same questions which aid analysis. You should allow a bit of flexibility so don't read the test script word for word, often non-scripted dialogue can add serious value to your results.
If you want to know more about usability testing and why you should be doing it in your next project, read our previous blog post Stop Guessing Start Usability Testing.
Free Test Script Template
In order to help you run your own usability test session, we have created a test script template which you can download if you click on the link below.
This template has been created based on our experience of running many test sessions over many years. We hope you find this useful, if you have any queries we would love to hear from you.
Download usability test script