Usability testing might just save your bacon – and your brand

Well, it happened again – the same thing that happens every time any digital product is put through usability testing. We found out that the people designing the thing (people who know exactly what it’s supposed to do and how it’s supposed to work) are not the same as the people actually using the thing. And the people who are supposed to use the thing don’t get it. And because they don’t get it, they have three options for how they might respond.

Option 1 is that they will tirelessly apply all their time and brainpower to trying to figure out your thing. The problem with this option is that the thing they are trying to figure out is probably trying to sell them something, and no one will work extra-hard just to be sold something. (I make the assumption that it’s trying to sell something because we are a marketing firm, and the things we make are generally supposed to sell stuff.) If the thing is entertaining or fun, you might have a chance for Option 1, but otherwise you can cross it off the list.

Option 2 is they will quickly give up and walk away. Of all the options, this is the one you should hope for, because Option 3 is not what you want.

Option 3 is that your thing will make them feel frustrated or stupid, and they may even get mad. Then their anger may be taken out on your brand, because people need to vent and blame someone for their bad user experience. This is just human nature. They might even be so frustrated that they post something negative on one or more of their social media networks. Then all of their friends, and even their friends’ friends, will know that your thing doesn’t work right. One Tweet turns into 3 million views (hey, it has happened). Ouch. We all know that social media is word-of-mouth on steroids, and bad comments or reviews have the power to make or break brands. This is why you don’t want Option 3 to happen.

The simple remedy

The good news is that Option 3 can easily be prevented. There is a simple fix for all of this, and I mentioned it at the beginning of this post. You simply test the thing beforeit’s produced, before it goes “out there” all broken for people to use as ammunition in online rants against your brand. This course of action sounds incredibly simple and obvious, which in fact it is, but it’s hardly ever actually undertaken by smaller brands, agencies or development firms that don’t have the deep pockets of Fortune 500s. Mega-brands like Amazon that make usability testing a continuous part of their routine (and their success stories) are the exception, rather than the rule. It seems that for Any Specialty Brand, Inc., usability testing either is not on the radar, is thought of as an unaffordable luxury, or, worst of all, is considered a waste of time and money. This couldn’t be further from the truth, because an ounce of usability testing is worth a pound of cure.

At Callahan, I’m happy to say that usability testing that’s conducted with in-house UXD expertise is now SOP for all digital deliverables. As a UXD expert once told me after conducting hundreds and hundreds of usability tests, the process never once failed to uncover things that needed to be fixed or could be improved upon. That’s certainly been my experience as well. And more often than not the problems that we uncovered with usability testing were completely unanticipated – often with potentially serious consequences if left unaddressed. That’s because the people making the thing can’t get out of their own heads and think like the people who will be using the thing. Fortunately, there’s a simple fix: usability testing.

In usability testing, a UX specialist asks a testing participant to go through a series of tasks while the development team observes from another room. These rooms must be far enough apart so the inevitable shouts of “It’s right there, just click the button!” from the development team are not heard by the participant.


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