Why Usability Testing is a Must-Have (Not a Nice-To-Have)

January 14, 2020 Zach SchlossJoe Torres

Have you ever been on a website that was so poorly designed, you vowed never to return? Ensuring users have an exceptional experience is critical, especially when a company’s website is synonymous with its brand. It’s one of the many reasons usability testing is a fundamental part of our process.

What is Usability Testing?
Grounded in user-centered design, usability testing is a quick and efficient way to get feedback from end-users about their experience. The findings guide how we design or make a digital product better. Usability testing can be done in a few different ways, e.g. in-person, remotely, moderated or unmoderated. Essentially, users are asked to complete tasks while they’re being observed or while their monitors are recorded.

The Process
At One North, we start by setting specific goals and assigning corresponding user tasks. For example, if we wanted to see how a user would find a career page on a website, the task might be: Show me where you would look to find information about what it’s like to work here. We then monitor the user’s behavior and navigation patterns while noting any hurdles or confusion. If we’re conducting moderated user testing, we may ask additional probing questions based on the user’s actions. After the testing is complete, we review and share recommendations with our clients.

Usability experts at Nielsen Norman Group (nngroup.com) explain why usability testing is effective and how it's done.

The Business Case
Usability testing reduces assumptions, so the end product is more effective. You reduce the risk of unexpected setbacks or surprises when the site goes live. Plus, the process is more efficient because you’re not wasting time on rounds of exploration on the project trying to get it right yourself. Most important, usability testing helps ensure users have a great experience and want to return.

“What matters to you – and your colleagues down the hall – might be different from what matters to your end user. And when you have a real user test your design, you get a fresh, unbiased perspective.” - UserTesting.com

Key Discoveries
Usability testing uncovers an array of important insights, from pain points to navigation issues to whether a requested design feature is useful or not. But, it’s not a one and done. Usability testing is most useful when it’s performed at several junctures across all phases of a project — even before the design phase begins. For example, prior to redesigning the recruiting section of a client’s website, we conducted a usability test which revealed that users were getting lost and had trouble locating the careers page. Additionally, we learned that beyond job descriptions and benefits, users were actually more interested in hearing stories from current employees. These insights not only informed the design, but also helped foster a shared understanding with the client of the site's priorities and overall design objectives.

3 Common Usability Testing Myths
With all the advantages usability testing offers, it seems like it would be universally embraced. However, it’s often skipped, largely due to misconceptions like these:

  1. It’s too costly. The fact is, usability testing actually saves money because it reduces time and money spent designing (or redesigning) something that’s unnecessary or ineffective. In addition, modern testing tools are much less expensive than they have been in the past.
  2. It takes too much time. New methodologies make it possible to test and receive results in a matter of hours. Research shows as few as 5 users can produce comprehensive feedback.
  3. Designers should already know this. User needs are always changing, and you can't assume what worked in the past will work every time. 

A website that’s hard to navigate is easy to leave. With usability testing as an integral part of our process, we’re creating solutions that boost user experience, increase retention and keep users coming back for more. If you want to learn more about our design process or how usability testing can improve your website, contact us.

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Zach Schloss Manager, UX Strategy

As Manager of UX Strategy, Zach helps clients maximize the effectiveness of their digital properties by ensuring they’re human-centered and tailored to their most important audiences. He considers it his personal responsibility to represent the voice of the user on every project, as they are often the only one not at the table during the design process.

Favorite season: Summer – nothing makes me happier than spending time out in the sun!
Most unusual job: A Hawaiian shaved ice operator, with 72 flavors and all the snow cones I could eat.

Joe Torres Senior UX Strategist

As a Senior UX Strategist, Joe is a problem-solver tasked with creating solutions to business challenges and objectives while keeping user goals and needs in sharp focus. Armed with both quantitative and qualitative insights, Joe brings to the table HCI fundamentals with an established background in digital media, marketing, & analytics. He helps clients by advocating for the user and balancing the realities of user goals and business goals. 

Fun fact: Joe is an avid traveler and a sucker for vast expanses of land, unique landscapes, and nature.

Favorite movie quote: “The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure, while always arriving.” – Waking Life

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