There’s a lot that goes into web development and design. Be it the launch of a website or mobile application; a company has to go through a long process of planning and implementation to achieve the desired goals. In this modern age, a business cannot risk losing customers and in turn, revenue just because of its weak web influence. At last, it comes down to one thing – user experience. How much a user engages with the platform and content is the thing that makes or breaks a deal. So, today we are focusing on one aspect of user experience – web usability testing, to understand what makes a specific user prefer one setup over the other.
Starting from the ground up, let’s first know about usability.
What is usability?
Usability is the degree of convenience in using something. It could be a pen, a phone or a computer. Since we are only concerned about web design, it can be stated as web usability and defined as the degree of user-friendliness of a web product, i.e. a website, blog or application. Usability speaks about how much a product is in-line with the user expectations and behavior patterns. A highly usable product allows the user to perform any task effectively and efficiently. Meaning, with the help of the product, a user can accomplish tasks without much delay or error. On the other hand, a low usable product will make the user confused and unable to complete the task in hand.
There are three main elements of usability namely – effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction. In another way, effectiveness can branch into learnability, memorability, and errors. So, the overall elements become learnability, memorability, along with error, efficiency, and satisfaction.
Learnability is the ease of learning the use of a product. It relates to the first-time experience of an individual with a product. Learnability dictates how easily and quickly a user gets acquainted with the product and its functions. Memorability succeeds learnability and highlights the comfort of interacting with the product after a gap in interaction time. It speaks about how easily a person can acquaint themselves with the product after not using the product for some time. Errors are the mistakes a user makes with using the product. Efficiency talks about how fast a person can perform a task. In this context, it is about the time that is taken to complete a particular task with the help of the product. Satisfaction reflects how much the user feels mentally fulfilled after interacting with the product. Satisfaction is what makes the user make judgment and form perception about product or service after the interaction.
Enough with the introduction, now let’s focus on why usability is important.
The importance of usability
What usability does is gauge the interaction of the user with the product. Its fundamental task is to measure the degree to which a user gets engaged to the product. As discussed earlier, usability plays a crucial role in deciding if an individual is going to continue using the product further or in the future. Usability along with user satisfaction is what counts for the businesses to keep their products and services relevant to the market. Something that doesn’t buy into people’s mind cannot possibly exist in the market. So forget about generating revenue from such products. Capturing people's perception to create an attractive brand image by subjecting the user to a positive, engaging experience with the product is vital. Further, this step aids in the achievement of goals set by the company. It could be expanding customer base or generating more substantial revenue, the usability of a product is what will bring the factors (i.e. the customers) responsible for achieving the objectives. Another highlight of possessing a product with high usability is warding off competition. It is simple. If you have a more user-friendly product as compared to your rivals, there’s no wonder that people will come to you. That's because your product provides more at a mental level than the other counterparts in the market. Remember, people buy emotions and justify it with logic. So, approaching customers with regards to their feelings will hold more importance and provide you with an upper hand against your rivals.
Now comes the real deal, usability testing.
While usability tells you about the ease of use of a product, usability testing speaks about its evaluation. Usability testing deals with examining and determining the usability of a product to weed out any design flaws that interfere with the user experience. It mainly revolves around specific tasks, and the effectiveness and efficiency of the user to complete those tasks. Testing out a product’s usability tells about any hiccups preventing a smooth, efficient and effective user experience along with revealing any unexpected anomalies.
Assessment helps gauge the satisfaction level of the user. It is carried out in the later stages of product development to assess the real-time interactions of the user. Comparative testing compares between two or more product designs. It aids in pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of all the models involved in the process.
Methods of usability testing
So, how does a company go about performing product usability? Here are some standard methods:
Hallway testing. It involves testing by recruiting random people to participate in the test. It is usually on-spot participation of individuals to test out a product without any prior invitation. Moreover, it does not involve any product expert in the process and results in raw opinion on first-time interaction with the product.
Remote usability testing. This type of testing is done over the Internet. An advantage of remote usability testing is that you can get feedback that comes from a diverse group of users. Remote testing does not rely on the physical presence of the user to test a product. The tester could be connected via video conference to test out the product and provide feedback.
Expert review. While the above two methods involve regular users, this method calls for an opinion from an expert. A regular user testing expresses a consensus of users while an expert review is feedback from someone who treats the product test as their job. Hence, there is a chance of missing out on information that could only be unearthed by a mix-up approach of a user.
Paper prototype testing. You can term it as a low-budget design usability testing. Prototype design steps are created on paper and compared with iterations to assess each version’s strengths and weakness. Because of no requirement for coding or graphics skills, it is a very cost effective and rapid form of testing that encourages creativity with the least consumption of resources.
Questionnaires and Interviews. These forms of testing involve direct interaction between users and moderators. Though questionnaires confine the type of feedback received from the user, they are handy when in need of usability reports in a structured format. Interviews are more open to opinions from the users. Concerning the depth of information, interviews can fish out the intricate issues that a user might face which are beyond the specified focus of questionnaires.
DIY walkthrough. This method calls for designers or other people involved in the product development to perform the task that they intend to test on a user. It could be used as an emergency or a last resort in testing as there’s still the element of acquaintance with designers and developers about the ins and outs of the product which a regular user will lack. To mitigate the problem, one could use someone not related to the development of the product but within the organization.
Controlled experiments are the scientific version of user testing. In this setup, the user/s are confined within the testing area or lab where they are carefully monitored while interacting with the product. Although one would not term it as a ‘real-life scenario’, the results obtained are quite accurate to be considered from the design point of view. Automated usability testing. This type of testing bars the users and the product gets tested on a framework for deviation from a predefined set of rules and parameters to guarantee an optimal user experience. One such automated testing approach is Justin Mifsud’s USEFul Framework.
To strength the case of web usability testing, here are some of the real-life instances. IBM’s intranet structure. The IBM employees never used the company's intranet to find any required information because it was very complicated. As a result, IBM merged its 8,000 intranet sites, 680 ‘major’ sites, 11 million web pages, and 5,600 domain names into IBM Dynamic Workplaces. Since then, IBM’s Dynamic Workplaces has become the number one source of information within the company. More on the topic here. Foraker's redesign and redevelopment of Breastcancer.org. Foraker was involved in revamping the design and platform for the non-profit organization Breastcancer.org. The remodeling resulted in the increase in traffic by 117% while new memberships rose by 41%. Apart from these, there was a 53% reduction in registration time and a 69% reduction in support costs. You can know more here.
So far, we have looked at what usability and usability testing is, and what are the methods involved. Next comes the process of usability testing, i.e. how usability testing is performed.
Usability testing – the process
The following are the steps involved in the process of usability testing:
Determination of metrics and task analyses.
Testing is good, but testing without any parameters in consideration is just a waste of time and money. So before trial, we need to set out the testing parameters or ‘metrics.' Metrics are based on what we intend to measure. However, just determining the metrics does not end our job. We should be able to analyze the whole process of metric evaluation. That means we have to look at the individual steps involved in the metric. For example, when determining a metric for ‘registration’, we need to think of each step involved in the registration process starting from clicking on the register button to seeing the thank you message.
This process of analyzing the tasks is known as task analysis. Task analysis lets us see where the users are facing issues while performing a specific function.
Once done with the metrics and task analyses, we need to focus on the method. Apart from the earlier mention methods, there are some other forms of testing which include card sorts, field studies, eye tracking, focus groups, surveys, and A/B tests. You are open to choices of methods but do keep in mind the strengths and weaknesses of the methods. Alternatively, you could use multiple methods for greater insight over the usability factor of the product. It would be a good idea to incorporate various methods of testing to even out the uncertainty with the methods and receive a yet in-depth analysis of the product usability that the individual tests will fail to provide.
Finding valid participants
Having users to test your product is key to performing usability testing. There are many options available to recruit personnel for testing. You could dip into the market and look for users. To garner the interest further, maybe even provide an incentive and boost the participation. If one's unable to do this, they could look for usability experts. This method of involving experts in testing is quicker than the predominant mode of mass participation. If all fails, let someone from within the company do the testing. It could be an appropriate approach for testing when one’s low on budget or constrained by time.
When, where and how of tests
After setting the metrics and methods and selecting participants, you need to set a date, time and place along with the type of testing.
Types of usability testing methods
Usability testing methods can be divided into two categories:
- moderated or non-moderated
- remote or in-person
Moderated or non-moderated
The involvement of a moderator differentiates moderate or non-moderated methods. Moderated methods have users testing a product in the presence of a moderator or instructor. It is useful in a scenario where the product interface is incomplete and would benefit the user when guided by an instructor. In other cases, it helps when there is a security concern.
Remote or in-person
These methods talk about the physical presence of the user. Remote methods do not call for the physical presence of the user. These methods can be moderate or non-moderated. Moderated remote methods will have an instructor interacting with the user via a video conference while the user tests the product. Non-moderated ones will only require the user to log in for testing the product.
Apply changes and repeat
Don't think the work is finished after the usability testing. It is just the start. Usability testing is a cyclic process; there's no end to it. Once you have incorporated any changes to the product, you have to test it again for any unexpected issues. You cannot rely on product's usability for a long time as the market fluctuates. People change, and so do their preferences.
In this article, we looked into usability and why it is essential. Then we put our focus on usability testing, its methods and finally the process of usability testing. We came to know the factors involved in making a product more desirable to the market and how the companies go about doing so.