In an age of rapidly evolving technology and short attention spans website usability testing has taken on increased importance. Our websites have grown from humble landing pages to complex and responsive digital shop windows and we have seen a number of new and exciting usability techniques emerge in response to this.
At IFF we believe in being human first and that is why we believe people should remain at the centre of website user testing.
There are a wide range of techniques and methodologies at our disposal when it comes to understanding how people will engage with and navigate websites, with the ultimate goal of improving customer experience.
Eye tracking technology has grown in popularity over recent years but we feel it has its limitations. This form of testing certainly doesn’t come cheap and there is good chance it won’t always deliver design teams the actionable insight they require – i.e. how does the customer or user really feel about the website they are using. Indeed, one of the criticisms levelled at this method of testing are that the data can be hard interpret and does not give a true reflection of the issues or opinions felt by users.
In our experience the most accurate and insightful method of gathering user feedback is through one to one moderated research sessions. Depending on the aims and objectives of our clients we frequently recommend moderated research sessions:
In a lab or viewing facility – allowing wider stakeholder and design teams to watch user reactions to the website /scenarios being tested in real time. We often accompany this with interactive analysis sessions with our clients.
“Accompanied surfs” whereby we arrange a time and date to visit a research participant in their home/office and ask them to explore the website as they would if they were genuinely using it – talking through what they are doing and why. We carefully note their reactions to the design as they are going through the process. This recreates a ‘real’ a scenario as possible for participants (a drawback of a lab environment is that it can fell less human to the respondent).
Remote user testing – similar to the approaches described above but conducted through Skype – a cost effective way to reach a large number of participants over a relatively tight timescale. One consideration to bear in mind is that people less comfortable with using the internet may be less inclined to take part in remote testing (because we ask them to log in/use software from their own computer).
We are also often asked about the role focus groups can play in website design and testing. These are particularly effective at the ‘ideation’ stage of website design, where respondents can develop ideas for layouts and information hierarchies. However, wherever our clients are looking to test live websites we will usually recommend that one to one sessions are undertaken.
While there is no right or wrong methodology when it comes to website usability testing our clients tell us that they prefer the personal / one to one approach and we feel that this delivers the best insight – which in turn helps improve user experience.
We are sure to see more website usability testing techniques emerge in the future but in our view there is no substitute for the human element.