Thursday, July 23, 2009

Simple Usability Studies Are Still Worthwhile

Summary: Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen has proven that simple usability tests are highly effective. Marketing automation vendors should take heed. Come to think of it, so should marketers.

A vendor very proudly showed me their new Adobe Flex-based user interface the other day. Flex is a “rich Internet application” technology, meaning it gives you drag-and-drop, pop-up windows, and other features of a desktop graphical user interface. I found the new interface a bit confusing, so I asked whether the vendor had done any usability testing. He said they hadn’t done anything formal, because of the cost, but had shown it to many current users who were very enthusiastic about the change. Fair enough.

By coincidence, a random Twitter post this morning pointed me to the blog of Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen. The specific post had to do with a study of mobile phone usability, which you won’t be surprised to find is dismal. But what particularly struck me was the relative simplicity of Nielsen’s methods – the study involved just a few dozen users doing selected tasks and its primary metric was the straightforward one of success rate. (I don’t mean to suggest the study itself is simple – the full report runs 132 pages and costs $198.)

Poking a bit more around Nielsen’s blog and Web site, I saw that simple usability studies are a recurring theme. For example, he showed back in 2000 Why You Only Need to Test with Five Users and made a more recent case for Fast, Cheap, and Good testing methods. Indeed, yet another post on Guesses vs. Data as Basis for Design Recommendations demonstrates that testing even two users is better than guessing.

Now, it’s true that Nielsen is measuring Web site usability, which is considerably less complicated than usability for a software application such as a marketing automation system. But I still think his point and his methods are valid: even a little usability testing goes a long way to help designers make the right choices. It’s something I hope more vendors will keep in mind.

Of course, Nielsen's work is even more directly applicable to the landing pages and other Web site components that marketers construct for their own use. Most marketers don't test enough in general, so you can see usability testing as just one example of the larger problem. But usability testing methods are different enough from standard marketing tests to think about them separately. The fact that they can be done very simply and before a page or site is launched actually means there is less reason not to do them, and greater value when you do.

1 comment:

scott said...

DR: could not agree more.we do usability labs on our app with 3-4 groups of 4-6 users, and it is an extrordinarily easy affordable and powerful reality check.

ingredients:
6 cinema workstations with web cams and dig mics (rent for a week for under $1500 total)
6 copies of camtasia to record full motion av of both the desktop interaction and the syncd picture-n-picture of the user's face/eyes/voice (free trial, under $2500 to purchase)
2 evenings (2 groups per eve, 2 hrs each)
50 sodas amd candy bars
1conference room
2 case problems with data, overview doc
1 portable 250gb drive for storing the video for later analysis ( under $200)
20 recruits ( under $200 each, even for highly skilled/educated targets)

Advice:
Don't delegate or outsource this. you get much more value and spend less money when the principals do it themselves.