Website User Experience Series: Part 3: Test

Best Practice No. 3:

Trust No One — TEST. Despite your best disciplined efforts, there’s no guarantee that you’ll design a great user experience. Waiting until you launch your site to see how users will react is risky. That’s why companies should employ testing early and often to validate their user research and designs.

· Settle irreconcilable differences through testing. Design teams often disagree. Instead of engaging in incessant arguments about what is or is not user friendly, test your designs with actual users to settle design differences. Usability testing is where representative users attempt to complete specific tasks under the watchful eye of a moderator — one user at a time. Effective usability testing can be done quickly and inexpensively; software such as TechSmith’s Morae will record the user session, and you can share the results with your design and development team. Analyze the results to determine whether or not the users completed specific goals, how quickly they completed the goals, and how many errors they made along the way. Afterward, ask them questions designed to determine how well they enjoyed the process such as, “What did you like about the site?” and “Was there anything that frustrated you?”

· Take a shortcut with expert reviews. Usability lab tests find many of the same mistakes over and over again. As a result, there is already an enormous body of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work in many different application contexts. Application developers can tap into this knowledge with heuristics testing, also known as an expert review. The review process begins by identifying the target users and their goals on a particular site. Armed with this information, a trained reviewer emulates the user and tries to accomplish specific goals on the site while looking for well-known user experience problems.

· Test continuously. Testing should not stop after the application is deployed. Sites change over time as a result of updates. The needs and expectations of users change over time as well, causing the performance of older designs to degrade even if the site or application hasn’t changed at all. Companies can use a variety of low-cost testing techniques to continuously monitor site health and alert them to the need for design tweaks or upgrades.

Pitfalls To Avoid In Testing

Not all user-centered testing is equally effective:

· Don’t just test for usability. Usability is only one aspect of user experience. Testers must also make sure that the site does something that users want to do. To test for usefulness, let users codesign their tasks by supplying specific details of a goal they want to accomplish. For example, instead of asking them to buy a PC, ask them to buy the specific PC they’d like to own, like a laptop that weighs less than 3 pounds, has a battery life greater than 4 hours, and costs less than $500. Observe whether the site has the content and function to support their real world objectives.

· Don’t forget to test for reliability and security. Testers must also make sure that the site and particular applications within the site perform their functions correctly and securely. Otherwise, users can find them selves cut off from the site’s value. When testing for reliability, be sure to force errors by doing things that the site is not designed to support, like entering nonsense into an email address field — the site’s reaction will often surprise you. Testing for security is not just about user authentication and authorization; it is also about confidentiality, integrity, availability, and non-repudiation. To avoid becoming a feature story on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, be sure to engage security and risk professionals to perform threat modeling on your user experience and technical design.

Stay tuned to continue reading this series with Best Practice #4- Injecting UX into your SDLC.