A DIY Approach to Website Usability Testing

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Laura Yoo is a content development manager at F+W Media, where she manages online education for HOW and Print. Here, she presents a Q & A with the host of an upcoming tutorial.

In a recent interview, Print contributor Chris Butler talks about how website usability testing has gotten a bad rap as being complex and expensive. He says the truth is that testing can not only be inexpensive, but there are ways to run tests that take very little time at all.

You can hear Chris speak on the topic in this Thursday’s design tutorial, How Simple Usability Testing Benefits Your Web Designs, where you can also learn about two testing methods you can start using with the sites you work on right away!

What are some of the common misconceptions about usability testing?

There are a couple that I think are the most important to debunk so that we can all get to work. The first is that usability testing is this enormously complex and expensive endeavor that puts it well out-of-reach. It requires facilities, equipment, people, expertise, and time that no one has, and probably never will. Lacking all of that, people conclude that they can’t do any usability testing. A decade ago—maybe even less than that—they might have been right. And while you can still hire usability experts that may fit right into that exhaustive and expensive paradigm, today you can do a fine job of it yourself. One that requires a simple and repeatable process. That said, simple doesn’t mean less rigor or benefit. In my tutorial, I’ll prescribe simple usability testing procedures that I know you can put to use right away.

The other misconception has to do with bias. I’ve heard more than once that DIY usability testing is too biased to produce any valid results. But the fact is that all usability testing methods are biased. They all synthesize the user experience—that alone is an inescapable bias. I’ll cover a few other biases in my talk, about how to avoid making them worse.

What are some of the simple tools that are available to make doing usability testing easier?

There are many, many online usability testing tools and services. Some of them are quite useful. However, what I’m going to recommend is a mostly DIY approach that only requires one tool that you may not already have: screen-capture software. I use Camtasia, though there are many other options for this. Otherwise, you’ll need a quiet space, a computer, a webcam, a volunteer, a moderator (that’s you), and a test plan to follow.

Do you recommend ongoing testing?

Absolutely! People and technology change far too often for our solutions to not have a pretty limited shelf-life.