What you need to know about user testing

User testing is an essential step of finishing your website.  It can shine a light on problem areas of the site that other kinds of test can’t because it doesn’t give you hard statistics, it gives you the opportunity to observe human interaction with your interface.  The process can be surprising, encouraging and potentially a little bewildering, but it consistently provides you with some valuable conclusions.  Below are a few tips of how to conduct user testing in the most productive way.

Test plan

The first thing you need to come up with is a test plan, and this means knowing what you are testing.  You shouldn’t just test “whether it works” you need to have specific aspects of the site that you’re going to be observing.  Make a number of tasks for the participants which will test specific aspects.  Each task should have:

  • A scenario: instruct the participants about a specific circumstance and ask them to complete a simple task.
  • Correct path:  have a note of the correct path to take to reach the end of the task – observe whether participants take this path naturally or whether they struggle.
  • Stopping point: have a stopping point which objectively signals the end of the task. i.e. the task is complete when you get through to the order confirmation page or the payment page.

Make sure you note down when participants struggle and when they find something easy.

Get the right kind of participants

This should be in accordance with what you are hoping to achieve via your user testing.  You might want previous customers, new customers or a mixture.  You need to think about everything from age group to gender. If you want a broad range of people then that’s perfectly valid too, just make sure you think about target audiences and create a recruitment profile accordingly.

Observe the process

Watch what the participants do and listen to what they say.  Don’t try and influence their opinions by asking leading questions or the like, just take in their feedback and interpret it once the actual testing has gone through.

Handy hints

Freeze the site – don’t do any web developing whilst user testing is going on.  It’s probably a good idea to save a local copy of the site just in case anything drastic goes wrong.

Regular testing is also recommended if you can afford it.  It means that your site will be constantly adapting to user experience; new changes can introduce new issues or road blocks for users so it’s good to be testing frequently!

Interpreting results

Remember that everybody’s perspective is unique and some users will have problems which other users won’t.  Listen to what the respondents say (after all that’s why you’ve brought them in for) but don’t necessarily take on board every single criticism they have.  Interpret their responses via your own web wizardry and other methods of testing the site and you should end up applying the results from user testing effectively.

Taking this kind of approach to user testing should ensure that your site is as user-friendly as possible.

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