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How To Make Your Usability Test An Engaging Experience

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In my first usability test, I met a dear old woman who didn’t know how uses a mouse. She lifted it up and pointed it at the screen, encouraging the cursor in verbal tones! At the test’s conclusion I got completely nothing. But I quickly learned the importance of laying down very exact criteria for recruitment of participants.

If you have run such a usability test in the past, you know how tough it is to conduct. It may not be rocket science, but there are certain difficulties involved which make a huge difference. I will share some lessons that I learned, in this article, which ought to help you prevent your usability test from becoming an exasperating experience for both you and your test participant.

Learning through one’s mistakes they say is the finest way to realize things. But all of us don’t get that opportunity. I will discuss some guidelines that I learned in my career path which ought to assist you in quickly improving your usability testing talents and so avoid the occupational hazards.

Ask Specific Questions About Design Usability In Your Test Script

When you begin another test of usability, don’t suppose that all you require is to select the key website areas and ask users to finish those tasks. You could discover some helpful insights by using this technique. But it shouldn’t surprise you that when you present your findings to the project stakeholders you have to face a barrage of questions for which you have no answers.

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Talk to the folks you have to report to; ask them what are the key questions they have to research for answers. If you have a host of questions, line them up in priority before you work your way forward and answer them in the best way possible. If the questions are vague or if you are not sure why they have been asked, get some clarification. More you comprehend why the questions are being asked, the better prepared you will be in answering them.

Make Participants Behave Naturally

When participants appear for a test, they’re generally unsure about what to anticipate. They’re likely to be nervous as if a camera was poking into their faces and someone was looking searchingly at them. Don’t be amazed if they seek guidance at the start. If you exert too much control at the beginning, you’ll give them the feeling that they have to get your permission before doing anything.

In Short…

Persuade users to act naturally by starting the test with an expansive task that allows them to explore in any way they would like to. I normally make use of previously prepared test queries to reveal an actual hassle they face in the perspective of the test and then I allow them to answer in as natural a way as possible. I was once testing an online realty website. Thus, in the first assignment, I asked them to hunt for a residence in the place where they would like to purchase — with a fixed budget. This helped us to get a true scrutiny of how they use the website and also set the context for upcoming test tasks.

Give Users Freedom To Do The Task Their Way

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In days gone by I used to give a task and when users began to go off the track I’d pull them in and tell them to make another attempt. I was very controlling and was at times losing my relationship with the participants.

In Short…

Always give your users room to roam freely about the website and even go off the track a bit before you haul them back to the task’s purpose. You could feel that you’re losing power or that the user has not understood the job. But resist the temptation for some time for it could be enthralling to watch where and why they go to.

Relax, Keep Quiet And Watch What Happens

It’s easy to be strict and only see what you require your users to do. When they produce unexpected, interesting things, it is very useful if you ask them what’s in their minds. But this must be done early and often or you will fail to correctly observe natural behavior.

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Don’t interrupt the flow of your participant’s thought processes. The more you butt in, the more likely they will lose the confidence to finish tasks without help. If you keep on ask them questions frequently, they will lose the flow and you will not see their natural behavior.

Prepare The Participants’ Tasks Openly

When you attempt a new task, you would like to have control of the variables and shut down the unfamiliar. Experience will teach you to let go of domination as you get more assured that you will be able to tackle everything that crops up.

I used to like writing out the precise scenario for a task. But I quickly learned that they do not engage in the same way when I give tasks that fit in with what they normally would do. I once asked a teenager to think that he was a mother of 3 children in order to finish a job. Not surprisingly, he stared at me in a strange manner and did not get really involved in the job, before giving it up and saying he could not find it.

In Short…

Set your users’ overall task but try to be nonspecific and then specify the situation to the participants. While this may not be possible always, there is great value in spending some time at the start of the test to learn who your participants are present and their use of the same kind of services/products. If you are able to use this scenario to form a test situation that matches the real problem they would like to resolve, you will be able to learn a lot more than a situation where a person only pretends to be in the picture.

Include Tasks On Websites of Peers/Competitors

If you spend an entire hour on one website it can bore both you as well as your participants. And boredom is not the only trouble! All your discoveries and scrutinies are based on a single, remote case. You don’t have a real awareness of the reason why that person all the time reaches out for the search box, or if he/she did it only on your website for the navigation options confused them. Looking at just one website will not give you a true picture of web usage by people.

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Make time to examine your competitor’s or peer’s websites, as a part of the test. Ask your participants at the beginning details of the websites that they are currently using; tell them to show it to you. Then introduce a competitor’s/peer’s website that they have never used. Now you will learn far more about their behavior patterns and why they selected this website and not that one. Importantly, you’ll get to know what functions well on websites other than your own, and why.

Don’t Tell Them Which Website You Plan To Test Immediately

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I have erred in the past by making it clear to participants the website I was about to test. This may be difficult to evade, sometimes, but do it if it’s possible. The benefit from this action is that it becomes pretty hard for someone to be totally sincere about their website experience if he/she is working for the web company as either an employee or agent.

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It’s very beneficial to get participants test competitor’s websites and provide you sincere feedback, before going to the website that you will test. If you achieve this and not let them know which website you are going to test, you have a greater chance of getting honest feedback from them. When the test’s end is approaching this will be obvious for you would have gotten a fairly good perception of their sincere first feeling of your website.

Summing Up…

If you wish to better the technique of your usability testing, the best way is to have more tests. But, as I’ve pointed out here, you must attempt to be conscious of how you design your test tasks and how you interrelate with the participants. This can crucially affect the result of your research. If you design your test in such a way that it concentrates on essential research questions; if you are not too strict with your tasks, that’s a good starting position. Additionally, if you include rivals in the test procedure and encourage users to act naturally, you’ll get better results.

I hope you have liked this post. If you have any queries convey them by way of comments. I’ll try to answer them in the best way possible. Also, I’ll enlarge on this subject in future articles.

Author Bio:

Alan Smith is an avid tech blogger with vast experience in various IT domains, currently associated with SPINX Inc., which offers web development, internet marketing and Web Design Services in Santa Monica region. Follow Alan on Google + and Twitter.

Bogdan

Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.