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Usability Testing – Keeping Testing Simple

usability-testingWhy didnt we do this sooner?

What everyone says at some point during the first usability test of their web site.

Here are the main things we know about testing.

If you want a great site, you’ve got to test.

After you’ve worked on a site for even a few weeks, you can’t see it freshly anymore. You know too much. The only way to find out if it really works is to test it.

Testing reminds you that not everyone thinks the way you do, knows what you know, uses the Web the way you do.

We used to say that the best way to think about testing was that it was like travel: a broadening experience. It reminds you how different and the same people are, and gives you a fresh perspective on things.

But we finally realised that testing is really more like having friends visiting from out of town. Inevitably, as you make the tourist rounds with them, you see things about your home town that usually don’t notice because you’re so used to them. And at the same time, you realised that a lot of things that you take for granted aren’t obvious to everybody.

Testing one user is 100 percent better than testing none.

Testing always works and even the worst test with the wrong user will show you important things you can do to improve your site. We make a point of always doing a live user test at, so that people can see that it’s very easy to do and it always produces an abundance of valuable insights. We ask for a volunteer and have him try to perform a task on a site belonging to one of the other attendees. These tests last less than ten minutes, but the person whose site is being tested usually scribbles several pages of notes.

Testing one user early in the project is better than testing 50 near the end.

A simple test in the early stages of the web development is just as valuable as a sophisticated test further into the development.

Part of the conventional wisdom about web development is that it’s very easy to go in and make changes. The truth is, it turns out that it’s not that easy to make changes to a site once it’s in use. Some percentage of users will resist almost any kind of change, and even apparently simple changes often turn out to have far reaching effects, so anything you can keep from building wrong in the first place is gravy.

The importance of recruiting representative users is overrated.

It’s good to do your testing with people who are like the people who will use your site but it’s much important to test early and often. My motto as you’ll see is “Recruit loosely and grade on a curve.”

The point of testing is not to prove or disprove something. It’s to inform your judgment. 

People like to think for instance, that they can use testing to prove whether navigation system “a” is better than navigation system “b” but you can’t. No one has the resources to set up the kind of controlled experiment you’d need. What testing can do is provide you with invaluable input which, taken together with your experience professional judgement and common sense, will make it easier for you to choose wisely and with greater confidence between “a” and “b”.

Testing is an interative process.

Testing isn’t something you do once. You make something, test it, fix it and test it again.

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“Usability as Common Courtesy"
When preparing this newsletter the main source of information and illustrations was Don't Make Me Think, A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability second edition by Steve Krug ISBN 0-321-34475-8
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