Crash course: Usability testing I

Although the ability to create a decent usability test is not usually up to a designer, it is the designer who inadvertently creates the results of one. What I mean by this is that a website’s usability is determined by the designer’s choices and ability to effectively communicate information through structure.

A usability test consists of a few individuals from varying age, demographic and educational ranges using a website with the guidance of a facilitator who is carefully studying the details of their processes. The basis of the test is simple: it determines whether a user can successfully navigate a website for an easy, enjoyable experience or if the website design hinders their ability to do so.

In this sense, usability refers to the extent to which the audience of your testing can meet goals and complete tasks that you outline for them. Usability testing of websites is important because a website that frustrates users will detract from traffic and messages and information you are trying to convey may not reach the intended aggregate of people you’re aiming for.

Usability testing is also a good way for designers to understand how to better serve the web generation by being able to successfully prepare designs and navigations that people can relate to and easily work with.

Usability tests are easy to conduct and can provide extremely useful information to a website owner or designer. Since it’s easy enough to conduct one and retrieve this information, it is best to run usability tests as often as possible on smaller scales rather than conducting one HUGE usability test only once.

There are other reasons for doing this: the websphere and techsphere is changing at such a rapid pace that sites are quickly outdated and design that once seemed ingenious quickly becomes obsolete and confusing. Test for usability at a sites conception, before and during redevelopment and when analytics show a sharp decline in traffic to a site.

In my next post, I’ll explain exactly how to conduct one of these tests as well as sample processes for you to use when doing so.