Easy and Cheap User Testing

Image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Most website owners don’t do usability testing. It is the first thing cut from budgets. It is always perceived to be time consuming and expensive.

Jakob Nielsen points out that these perceptions are very wrong.

“Simple usability tests where users think out loud are cheap, robust, flexible, and easy to learn. Thinking aloud should be the first tool in your UX toolbox, even though it entails some risks and doesn’t solve all problems, ” says Nielsen. And, he’s been saying this since 1993!

In a thinking aloud test, test participants use the website while continuously verbalizing thoughts as they move through the user interface. A basic thinking aloud usability study, requires just three things:

  1. Recruit representative users.
  2. A script of tasks to perform.
  3. Let the users do the talking.

Think-Aloud Benefits

The method reveals what users really think about a site: their misconceptions,, interpretatios of the user interface and what they find easy and hard to use.

Other benefits:

  • Cheap. No special equipment needed; simply take notes as the user talks. It takes about a day to collect data from a few users, which is all that’s needed for the most important insights.
  • Robust. Most people are poor facilitators and don’t run the study exactly according to the proper methodology. But, unless you blatantly bias users by putting words into their mouths, you’ll still get reasonably good findings.
  • Flexible. You can use the method at any stage in the development lifecycle. It will work for websites, software applications, intranets, consumer products, enterprise software, mobile design.
  • Convincing. Sitting in on a few thinking-aloud sessions doesn’t take a lot of time and is the best way to motivate a team to pay attention to usability.

Learn more at Useit.com.

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