usability testing

My client is working to put together a UX department. They’re looking to start doing regularly scheduled UX testing; especially within their e-commerce funnels. I’ve already provided a bunch of links and resources regarding user testing, but they’re naturally concerned about making it as efficient as possible. I asked users different questions than what my client had been, resulting in the destruction of some assumptions. (Oopsie)

Do you have anything you’d consider best practices from your personal experience?

@Staff... it’s really quite simple.

Usability testing is a technique used in user-centered interaction design to evaluate a product by testing it on users. This can be seen as an irreplaceable usability practice, since it gives direct input on how real users use the system.[1] This is in contrast with usability inspection methods where experts use different methods to evaluate a user interface without involving users.

Usability testing focuses on measuring a human-made product’s capacity to meet its intended purpose. Examples of products that commonly benefit from usability testing are foods, consumer products, web sites or web applications, computer interfaces, documents, and devices. Usability testing measures the usability, or ease of use, of a specific object or set of objects, whereas general human-computer interaction studies attempt to formulate universal principles.



  1. the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment.


Ok so here it is...

My first Tumblr blog post

Its with great in-trepidation that I jump into an unknown abyss.

My plan is to bring about thoughts, discussion and commentary from all those out there interested in all things web related.

This could be anything related to:

  • Digital Strategy
  • SEO
  • Web Specific Photography
  • Usability Testing
  • Designing for user engagement
  • Social media (yep slowly becoming a tad old)
  • Collaborative networks

I tend to think best at night…i’m currently getting some practice in for when I begin my MBA @ UTAS later in the year.

With two boys under 6, 4 acres in Snug Tasmania, a border collie, 21 chickens and a passion for business - my mindset only settles down after about 8 at night.

This I find is the best time to sit down crank up Triple J and surf, research, learn all things web related.

My motivation is all about understanding and sharing with other business owners the power held within the www.

I’m thirsty for knowledge and would love to connect with others out there.

Hopefully the Tumblr beast does not cause me too many headaches….setting it up was an experience but I’ll save that for a posting down the track under the label of usability.

Product Testing

In the last 2 weeks my startup pushed out 2 successive user-facing updates, which made me realize we don’t do enough product testing. In fact, a lot of startups forgo this step altogether which is a big mistake in my opinion. 

Now when I say product testing, I don’t mean writing unit or integration tests. Nor do I mean testing to see if the page loads or if the features worked. In my mind, those are two sides of the same coin, functional testing. Functional testing is crucial of course, but I imagine most startups do plenty of this. Most CTOs with proper dev process experience will work this in.

Product testing to me means testing if the features are intuitive and noticeably better than the status quo or the next best alternative. It is more on the product and sales side than the technology side. I would argue that every major release (not bug fixes) should warrant a small amount of product testing.


As an analogy, imagine you’re Ford and building a new SUV.

  • Functional Testing would be the equivalent of making sure the engine worked, the car was well put together, etc.
  • Product Testing would be the equivalent of making sure your designs are intuitive to the drivers, that people are not confused by any new features you put in, and are willing to switch from their existing vehicles and/or pay premiums.


“Okay so we need to do Product testing, but where do we start?”


You can certainly go out and hire a testing service via the plethora of testing websites out there. But here are my problems with them…

  • more often than not, they are functional testing and not product testing
  • you have little control over the sample group, its useless if they use testers who are not part of your target segment
  • the sample group is often not well chosen in terms of range of experience, expertise, etc
  • it’s can get very expensive


Here’s the way I try to approach it with my companies…

  • identify your target segment, it’s important to do this instead of try to cover every segment, which is unrealistic and unnecessary
  • pick a sample set of 12-15 individuals who represent that segment, this is a manageable number but will give you some variety
  • divide the set into 3 groups of 4 or 5 individuals: group 1 are brand new, group 2 are somewhat experienced, group 3 are experienced users
  • you do this by recruiting 4 or 5 new individuals to compose group 1 each time, then rotate the old group 1 and group 2 up one, and retire the old group 3
  • what this gives you is a rotating set of testers, some of whom are familiar with the product and some of whom are brand new


By using this rotation approach, you can ensure that you always have the proper range of experienced and novice users. This will allow you to identify which areas of your product are confusing. Take note of the differences in reaction for each group, and incorporate them into your design iterations. 

Browser back button

Has the site navigation failed if the browser back button is used? I seem to recall reading somewhere (forgive me I can’t remember the original source) about the use of the back button by visitors. The original piece concluded with a bold statement: Navigation has failed if the user engages with the back button.

I’ve often considered this as I’ve run usability testing sessions. I’ve noticed the browser back button features frequently when users navigate within and between sites. So, if users are comfortable using the back button why, would we challenge them and attempt to change their behaviour?

I personally don’t believe that it matters if a user chooses to use the back button, breadcrumb trail, main navigation, related links, footer, site map or the site search to get to the content they are looking for. After all, a good site provides multiple jumping off points to ensure visitors don’t reach dead ends without having understood where pools of related or relevant content sit.

Does the regular use of the back button have something to do with its consistency across all websites visited? I think it may. It’s there, in the same place, top right, for every website they view. It’s not only consistent but terribly easy to use and doesn’t require further thought. From what I’ve seen, I think it’s a quick way for users to get back to the page they were on a moment ago and explore another pathway on their quest to information.

Visitors all have their own way of navigating and seeking information. Websites provide them with multiple entry points to content. I tend to think of the back button as another way of getting around, a short cut.
22 Essential Tools for Testing Your Website’s Usability

Testing usability is an art and a science. There are many times when usability testers rely on qualitative measurements, intuition, opinions and feedback from users and experience. However, there are also factors you can test quantitatively to ensure that a site is usable.

In this post, we’ll discuss six crucial factors that affect usability. For each, you’ll be provided with some tips, tools and ideas on how you can measure these usability factors.

We’ll focus on practical usability testing, so the emphasis is on pragmatic and inexpensive strategies that most site owners can do. These things apply regardless of what type of website (blog, e-store, corporate site, web app, mobile device, etc.) you’re evaluating.

  1. User Task Analysis
    • Learnability
    • Intuitiveness
    • Efficiency
    • Preciseness
    • Fault Tolerance
    • Memorability
    • Affordance
  2. Readability
  3. Site Navigability
  4. Accessibility
  5. Website Speed
  6. User Experience
Never listen to your customers

Customers are the most valuable source of insights. Spending time with them and listening to their problems is the best what any company could do. However, as most companies do it wrong, customers become the biggest sources of distractions and a reason for failed products and websites.

With all the talks about customer-centric, customer-driven, customer-whatever culture it might be daunting to listen to your customers. Most companies, however, take this advice literally. This leads to a situation where a product or a website is developed under a pressure of diverse opinions of various categories of customers. In the end it becomes nothing to nobody. It becomes overcomplicated, costly to maintain, not focused. As a result, all those customers who were kindly advising you what could be improved resign from you in favor of your competitor.

So what is the trick? How one can listen to their customers and benefit from them. This is a thing we love the most about usability testing. You take representatives of real customers or real customers and show them a product. Then you give them a high-level task that uncovers how customers interact with a product (not primitive as most do, like “Would you please find this button or this function on the website etc.”) and start observing. When you are observing you focus on behavior and real problems and then - and here the most interesting part comes - you support what you have just seen with comments of your customers. In this case, their opinions, personal preferences, comments and ideas come through a strong filter of unbiased observation. If customers say that something was not a problem for them while they failed to complete important task few times, you can clearly see it. If they claim that they would like something to be solved one way, you already have a better picture that it could be solved another way.

Yesterday, Alan Cooper from “Inmates are running the asylum” illustrated it with a great example. Let’s take a kindergarden (playschool). There are kids who are “clients” and teachers who are “designers”. The only, the biggest and the most important task of a teacher is to take care of children, so they are safe and secure. Other things do not matter much as long as children are all right. Kids, however, might have lots of ideas how kindergarden could be better. For example, they could jump around screaming for candies and ice-cream. It does not mean, however, that a teacher should give it to them. Clever teacher would drive to a conclusion that children either are hungry and they want something tasty or they are playful and want to do something fun.

What most companies do, in the roles of teachers is that they starting giving ice-cream. Lots of it and of various tastes and flavors. For some period of time it works and company starts feeling that they found “the thing” that will make the company prosper forever. In some time, however, kids have diarrhea and other skin and stomach disorders. And then kids stop asking for ice-cream and start blaming teachers for giving it to them.

Lesson learned: customers and their feedback can be a great source of inspiration, but their opinions, ideas and suggestions should be always put through a filter of professional observations and never ever should be a last resort for making decisions.