Many companies also know that user testing is the simplest and fastest method in the usability engineering toolbox. (Unfortunately, many don’t know about the other methods in the toolbox or how to combine multiple usability methods throughout the project lifecycle, but that’s a story for another day.)
By now, most companies accept the need to improve the usability of their websites, intranets, software designs, hardware designs, and other projects that have a user interface. Many companies also know that user testing is the simplest and fastest method in the usability engineering toolbox. (Unfortunately, many don’t know about the other methods in the toolbox or how to combine multiple usability methods throughout the project lifecycle, but that’s a story for another day.)
Lots of people believe in user testing, but not much testing takes place in real design projects. What’s the cause of this discrepancy? Mainly, it is the barrier to firing off a quick, small test whenever people are faced with a design decision. Very few companies are positioned to make a test happen within the deadlines needed for a fast-moving development project. This lack of test-readiness means that testing becomes a rare and precious event that—at best—happens once in each project.
Single-test projects invariably defer their usability testing until the complete design has become available. This practice still occurs despite twenty years of experience uniformly showing that multiple rounds of testing and redesign are necessary to achieve acceptable quality of the user experience and the equally strong finding that it is a hundred times cheaper to fix usability problems if they are discovered in the beginning of a project instead of at the end.
To increase the proportion of companies that apply usability methods correctly, we must make it easier and cheaper to do the right thing.
The three main rules for simplified user testing are:
1. Get representative users
2. Ask them to perform representative tasks with the design
3. Shut up and let the users do the talking.
The third rule is surprisingly difficult, and rule #2 also requires some amount of experience to execute well. Still, the main obstacle to quick and frequent user testing is the difficulty of finding warm bodies that satisfy rule #1. Most companies have no procedures for getting five users to show up at specified times next Wednesday, and yet that’s what is required for a successful usability study.
Participant recruiting is the unglamorous foundation for all user testing. Without recruiting you won’t have any users to participate in your test. Having a systematic recruiting program in place will make a huge difference in the amount of usability testing conducted in your organization, and increasing the quality of your recruiting will have an immediate impact on the quality of the test results.