When designing a website, we make a lot of assumptions. Usually, there is a small project team making all the design decisions: a few people client side - usually a marketing manager and their close collaborators - as well as a project manager and a designer agency side.
This is all great, but often we lose sight of the fact that real people are going to use this website once it’s finally deployed to the real world.
At Thirst, we always recommend at least one day of user testing so that we can make adjustments to the designs before entering the development phase. Front-end and back-end development are always the tasks that are the most time consuming and expensive in a web project. The last thing you want is to build a website based on a lot of unverified assumptions.
The teams (both agency and client side) can be a bit too close to the project and can lose attention to the important details that will make the website an invaluable asset and will actually help reach the business goals. Additionally, there is always a tendency to want to please people within the company. These people, more often than not, don’t have the same needs as the end user.
A user testing a prototype of the new Melbourne Uni Sports website
So what exactly is User Testing?
Essentially, it is about observing, recording and analysing how an end user will use your website. It’s almost always different, in some way or another, to how you think they will use it.
To that effect, we try to use testers who are completely external to the immediate team. We need to find users who are as close as possible to the target audience, so it’s important to define some pretty clear user personas and targets beforehand. That in itself involves a bit of work.
After discussing and defining who the end users are with the client, we source 5 people who match the criteria and conduct all the tests within one day (usually 1 hour per person).
The session is then conducted face to face. It starts with a generic interview of the user, who they are, what their online habits are and whether they tend to use their phone or their computer more often, which will then inform which device we use for testing.
The test is then conducted using a high fidelity prototype - essentially the website’s pages linked together using a prototype tool such as Figma. The experience mimics very closely what using the real website would be.
We then ask the user to try and perform a few essential tasks that the real audience would be looking to achieve when visiting the website such as booking or buying something.
Find out exactly where your users get stuck
One of the biggest benefits of user testing is that you can see where your users encounter problems and get stuck.
By watching and interviewing the user and most importantly, listening to their reactions and watching their facial expressions we can see very quickly when frustration or confusion arises. If a piece of functionality hasn’t been fully prototyped, we ask the user how they think said functionality should work.
- Unclear navigation
- Call-to-actions that are not obvious
- Confusing colour scheme
- Vague copy
Don’t forget that your real users will be browsing your website on different devices, while doing something else at the same time, in a variety of different situations which will undoubtedly be different to how the project team would test it.
Save money and time… and have a plan
A time saver
As mentioned previously, User Testing will actually save time down the path. Even though it may seem like it’s slowing down the project by impeding on actual design or development time, it will actually help the project team make decisions which may save a tremendous amount of time later on.
A money saver and a guarantee of ROI
Realising after launch that a piece of functionality doesn’t resonate with your user will definitely cost the business more money to rebuild than if it had been noticed before commencing development. Additionally, building a website that you know fits your users’ needs will actually have long term benefits on your bottom line and your revenue.
A roadmap of improvements
While not all the feedback you gather during a user testing session will be implemented straight away, a lot of what the users suggest can be saved for later in the months after launch when more budget is available. Essentially you can create a valuable backlog of functionality which you can implement and user test again, bit by bit.
You can’t second guess the end user
Even the smartest and most talented project teams will only get so far if they don’t involve real users at some point in the design process.
When it comes to deploying a new website for your customers, the only really valuable feedback you can get is from them. They will be using it. So make sure you listen to them as well as you can.