You’re a fast-growing company with a product that’s cooler than sliced bread and bubble wrap combined. Your users told you that. However, they’re also complaining that your product is hard to use. Your users want to love it, but right now it’s irritating here and there despite being much faster and easier than the old way. Sound familiar?
A wise person I knew always asked: “well, have you watched someone use your product in the field?” For far too many startups, the answer is a guilty “no.” We all know we should run usability tests, but we don’t. Some people might add “but we do gather metrics” as a mitigating factor. No, that solves a different problem.
Metrics are great for answering questions you already have, but they’re not good at pinpointing usability problems. For that, you need user testing. We were in that situation: our metrics indicated problems, but we didn’t know what the actual issues were. So we started to run usability tests.
Our methods were inspired by an excellent book on the subject: Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug. In it, he recommends periodically bringing in a few users for short, supervised sessions. This provides valuable feedback at a low commitment to your team – a few hours a month is more than enough.
Finding ad salespeople who could drop into our actual office for an hour at a time was more daunting than we expected, so we tried an online service instead: UserTesting.com. You submit a website URL, a list of tasks you want testers to try, and the demographics you want for your testers. UserTesting.com then chooses human testers for you and records their screen and voice during the session. Usability tests are amazing tools for highlighting both anticipated and unanticipated problems, and UserTesting.com makes running them quick and easy.
When we discovered how much useful data we could get from even one test, we made usability testing part of our iteration cycle. Once our release goes out, we run a round of tests to inform planning for the next iteration. This ensures that we address the right issues.
For us, reviewing the tests is a whole-company activity. Our accounts people get a better idea of what their users are thinking when they ask for help. Our designers get feedback for future UI changes, and our developers see the concrete evidence behind design choices that may sometimes feel arbitrary. Usability testing focuses our team’s efforts on the user, which is where we should be focusing anyway.
And finally, for your viewing pleasure, here are a few new UI features inspired by feedback from our tests. In each case, we fixed them and then double-checked our ideas in the next round of tests.