How Usability Testing Saved My Redesign from Disaster
Website usability testing is often a last-minute exercise conducted to satisfy a few senior managers who want to test with some users before going live. Unfortunately, waiting until your website designs are complete or nearly finalized before conducting usability testing can have disastrous consequences.
As the webmaster for a local community college, I was recently tasked with redesigning the school website. I put together a project plan featuring several design mockups, site mapping and usability testing parameters before the first line of code was written. Regrettably, management reviewed the plan and decided to omit the usability testing in an effort to speed up the development process, leaving me with no budget and no time for the testing.
Usability testing is typically used to select a new website design or enhance an existing design to maximize the user experience. In this circumstance, I was required to select and implement one of the three design mockups without any testing in an attempt to meet the unrealistic deadline set for me. After meeting with associates to select the design that best suited our college, I became concerned about the absence of usability testing in this process. After all, how could the college employees who were involved in choosing a design accurately predict the opinions and behaviors of unbiased users?
Instead of giving up on testing completely, I researched inexpensive ways to conduct usability testing, and found that testing on my family could be an effective way to obtain valuable feedback without breaking the bank. After our design was chosen, I spent some time one evening creating a working home page mockup in HTML/CSS. That weekend, I spent about 30-40 minutes with my three siblings, my mom, and a few other friends and family members. The data that I received was invaluable, as it revealed that the academic language often used at a college for all links and navigation was often incomprehensible to someone unfamiliar with the college experience, like my 15 year old brother.
Colleges have a tendency to label links and other items on their sites using specific academic terminology that ultimately serves to confuse students. School staff members are immersed in academia and have embraced academic phrases and terms as part of their everyday vocabulary. Usability testing uncovered many of these issues before we launched the website redesign, as my family simply could not follow the navigation structure that made perfect sense to myself and many other staff members, check here.
The absence of usability testing can cause major issues after a site design is already implemented. The “contact us” button may be clicked more often as users get lost in the website, there may be more calls to the school than necessary or users may just leave the site completely. Catching and fixing errors after a site is implemented is much more expensive and time consuming, as you have already laid the foundation. A good example is building a basement before a new house constructed versus adding a basement to an existing home. It will cost an additional $20,000 to add one to an existing house, even though it’s still just a basement! Conduct your usability testing during the design phase, and continue to conduct usability testing every one-to-two years after implementation as major renovations take place throughout your site. You may not notice that a particular webpage or section is nearly impossible for users to locate, but students or users looking for that information will get extremely frustrated and may never return.