Allow me to set the scene: I'm standing behind the first of several testing volunteers we've arranged to come and spend a few minutes using our website. He's sitting at my computer studying our homepage, which we've asked him to do for a minute or so without clicking any links. Lauren, one of our project managers who is guiding this round of testing, asks him to narrate his observations.
"Clearly Newfangled are web developers. That's easy enough...You guys have a lot of different clients."
So far so good, I'm thinking. We're so awesome. And our website is so rad.
"..If I was just coming to this site the first thing I would wonder is...well, every thing seems pretty specific, like, lots of little articles..."
True, true, we work hard. Thanks for noticing.
"...but if none of these interest me, I don't know exactly where I would click to just see a basic, um, "what we do"—even like a two line..."
Wait, what? Really? My sense that this would be a fun, expertise-confirming experience just evaporated. No, not evaporated—that sounds too pleasant. More like melted down, like the way that one bad guy's face does after he's covered in toxic waste at the end of Robocop.
Doesn't he see the positioning statement (two lines, by the way) right there in front of his face? Is he blind???
I guess that's what the earliest stage of failure feels like—when you haven't even realized you've failed. For a brief moment, you're the victim of a cruel injustice until you realize that, no, he's right. Our positioning statement is barely there. The most important statement our homepage could make, quietly tucked beneath the much louder and less critical slideshow—which, as it turns out, moves so fast that most of our volunteers couldn't process the messaging it contains. We were only a minute and twenty-five seconds in to our tests, and yet we had weeks of work before us.
I'm too close to my own website to judge it, and so are you.
All melodrama aside, website usability tests are not the kind of experiences everyone walks away from feeling like a winner, which is exactly why you should do them. They don't just expose the flaws and weaknesses of a website's design or construction; more importantly, they reveal the inability of anyone close to the website to accurately judge it's effectiveness. Though we had, of course, expected actionable feedback from the test subjects, that expectation didn't preclude a bit of a sting in actually receiving it. But these tests present a positive opportunity to learn what you are not able to see for yourself. If you can take that point of view, usability testing should produce excitement, not resignation.
This month I'd like to share with you the simple video-enhanced usability testing procedure we used on our own website, what we found, and what we're going to do next.