For startups, the idea of conducting usability research and doing actual tests can seem very intimidating and far-reaching. Many would tend to argue that there is soo much other things to do — like actually building the product in the first place. This is true; however, the key thing is to know what & why your building your product. By incorporating gorilla or small usability tests, you’ll be able to validate 5 key quality components for your product:
- Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks for the first time they encounter the design?
- Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform the tasks?
- Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
- Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
- Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use?
Having this information will only help you hit your target as you go through the cycles of ‘Build, Measure and Learn‘ for each of your product iterations. Regardless of how cool your product looks, if it’s too difficult to use and fails to allow the user to accomplish their function they’ll leave. Your design team should be making those excellent decisions about both design and implementation based on proper data and not hunches about how your users are using your product.
The good news is that sure there are ‘best practices’, but you don’t and shouldn’t get too caught up in the possibility of doing it wrong. It’s really difficult to do a usability test wrong if you have clear parameters.
What is usability testing?
It generally involves having a series of tasks for people representing your users to complete by putting the in front of your product and observing what they do. In a nutshell that’s all it is.
Your goals should be centered around observing problems and listening to all the questions that your participants are asking.
Why should startups care?
The point of user research is so that you can later make confident decisions about your flow and designs. Jared Spool, who founded User Interface Engineering and all around smart guy, is known for saying that when his company has researched causes of many failed designs, he found out that the lack of proper research and testing data was at the root of all the bad decisions. This doesn’t mean that years of experience means nothing as a UX designer, it just puts the power back into the gathered data and your interpretation through iterations — not design hunches.
Why usability testing as opposed to using other methods? I contend that 80% of the value of testing comes from the magic of observing and listening as people use a design. The things you see and the things you hear are often surprising, illuminating, and unpredictable. This unpredictability is tough to capture in any other way. – alistapart.com
Six steps for a usability test
The process for conducting these tests don’t have to be held in any type of fancy state of the art room, with two-way mirrors, cameras everywhere, or etc. Testing something is better than testing nothing, meaning that if you have access to a conference room, that would work. If not, than any place that’s quiet and free of distractions (this depends on your product, but at first it’s best for isolation — ask me why). Once you have the location set, below is a great list to use as a high-level outline view:
- Plan the test
- Find and select participants
- Write tasks and prepare materials
- Facilitate tests
- Analyze data & observations
- Communicate results
In a later article I will break down into more detail and walk through each of the six steps mentioned above. Until then feel free to view the presentation below and / or ask me a question on twitter.