Notes From User Testing

Last week Browser hosted a UAT session for our latest website development (launching soon!)

Most website designs — or any design for that matter — do not go through this sort of testing but it’s well worth the effort when done right. It’s exciting and a bit scary to be sat there with your clients while real users are effectively approving your work.

Well suffice it to say, things went well. Very well actually. Not to say we won’t be making changes, but the outcome was positive, insightful and just plain fascinating. As designers we build up snippets of knowledge that result in a lot of [educated] guesses being made around usability and user behaviour. Testing sessions like this should confirm that, somehow, we actually know what we’re doing (and that’s good to know.) They also destroy many stereotypes regarding Web and technology usage in general.

A few confirmations I took away from this session:

Users aren’t stupid. If you’re in the industry you’ll know how much respect users tend to get. They’re pretty savvy by comparison (and age has nothing to do with ability). Users read when they think it’s worth ready (note to “SEO” gurus). Users scroll when they think it’s worth scrolling, i.e. content further down is obviously relevant. Learned conventions like clicking the logo to return home, or pressing return on single field form with no submit button (like search, or the Facebook status update) are common but not to everyones knowledge or taste.

Good on-site search is important. For many it becomes the go to navigation method if they know it returns good results. If you’re making the global search prominent, make sure it works very well. Also look for multiple navigation avenues, don’t restrict navigation to a single area like the header. Take advantage of the Web’s interlinked nature. Having multiple links to the same place is a very good thing — but you have to start with an uncluttered and planned layout. Having a crap design overrides any positive usability gained here.

Number of clicks means nothing. This is the bogus default criteria that really translates to “I have no idea how to judge this interface”. Well structured, understandable navigation and content is the important factor. A ‘click’ has no friction or cost if the user knows what they’re looking for, and where to find it.

Oh, and responsive web design is a good idea.

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