Okay, so maybe it won’t save your life. But it certainly can keep you out of the ER due to the stress-induced heart attack you were about to have because you have no idea whether or not your customers can actually use the thing you just poured your life into building. Usability testing is one of the best things you can do to understand whether or not people can use the product as you intended, and from there make informed iterative improvements.
I have often heard people say that usability testing is difficult or inconclusive or even a waste of time. I believe that many of these notions stem from misunderstanding the process and requirements of a formal usability test. Yes, quantitative tests, qualitative tests, and developing comparative tests can be overwhelming. The truth is that some testing is better than no testing at all. This is not new news. Back in 2001, Jacob Nielsen said that everybody should be doing “simple user testing.”
While there is no denying the value of a formal usability test, the reality is that most teams need quick, actionable feedback about a few specific issues. Steve Krug wrote his book, “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” to address this very point. He wanted to give people simple, practical ways to find and fix usability issues. (I highly recommend you buy it and read it immediately—it is an invaluable resource.)
In the book, Steve talks about the difference between analytics and user testing and says, “while analytics can tell you in great detail what people are doing on your site, they can’t tell you why they are doing those things.” Understanding that users could not determine what to do next because of bad button copy is infinitely more valuable than knowing that 95% of your users drop out before they complete a transaction.
You may still be thinking that this is not going to work for you. You don’t have the room or the budget or the time to even do the lightweight testing. Thankfully, the barrier to entry is very low thanks to the ubiquity of the internet and a proliferation of new online usability testing tools. The “do-it-yourself” style of usability testing has definitely begun to resonate with designers, engineers and product managers.
One of the more recent methods to get a lot of buzz is Remote User Testing. A recent book by Nate Bolt & Tony Tulathimutte entitled “Remote Research” delves into a method that Steve Krug describes as “80% of the benefits with 70% of the effort.” Some of the advantages to remote user testing are: testing users in their native environments, an archive of automatically recorded tests, simplifying the recruiting process and the ability to allow clients to participate in the tests.
There is no denying that an in-person interview will reveal things that no computer driven test can identify. However, the insights that come from remote testing can allow a team to do rapid, iterative improvements and have actionable feedback long before the final release.
So while usability testing may not actually save your life, it can help you improve your product, which in turn will help to create happy, satisfied customers, which in turn will keep you out of the hospital.