The Secret of Usability Testing on a Budget: Lunch-n-Learn Thursdays
by Gretchen Klotz
A fun and tasty Mightybytes tradition continues with seasonal salads inspired by Chef Stephanie Izard, and Russ Unger’s expert tips on how to conduct usability testing on a budget.
Russ Unger, co-author of A Project Guide to UX Design and the forthcoming book Guerrilla UX Research Methods, kept the tasty morsels coming after our meal, sharing his expert tips on how to conduct usability testing on a budget.
A Kohlrabi Salad Inspired by Chef Stephanie Izard
James devised a delicious menu of seasonal salads and wraps, inspired in part by the Always Hungry Web Video Series that Mightybytes created with Chef Stephanie Izard of The Girl and the Goat restaurant.
Watch this video from the series to learn how to make the shaved kohlrabi salad with cherries that James prepared for us:
Rounding out his menu was an avocado and heirloom tomato salad with basil and roasted corn, and hearty quinoa kale wraps prepared with bell peppers and goat cheese.
How to Conduct Usability Testing on a Budget
While we feasted on James’ seasonal menu, Russ talked to us about usability testing. Usability testing is the process of gathering feedback from customers in order to improve a website’s design. Traditional usability testing is often conducted in labs outfitted with cameras, computers and eye-tracking software. While there’s no question that this process yields valuable insights, usability testing often takes a back seat on projects due to budgetary concerns. But usability testing doesn’t have to cost a lot.
Russ shared several techniques that can help both web designers and clients understand the desires of target audiences without breaking the bank.
In order to get inside the head of key and prospective customers to understand their desires, you must first determine what they are thinking, seeing, hearing and doing.
A good way to get started in this process is to create an empathy map. This tool can help clients and designers quickly outline the traits and behaviors of a website’s core audiences.
Empathy Map Examples
This empathy map tells what a customer at a coffee shop sees, hears, thinks and does.
Some people use post-it notes when they’re creating an empathy map so that they can move details between areas of the map. Flickr Creative Commons photo by Oliver Quinlan.
How to Create an Empathy Map
You can create an empathy map in three easy steps:
- Draw or place a picture of a typical or actual customer at the center of the map.
- Create areas around the customer photo that organizes what the customer hears, sees thinks and does.
- Add details to the appropriate branches. Consider using post-it notes or a dry erase board to move details from one section to another as needed.
This diagram illustrates the different areas on a typical empathy map.
The benefits of Empathy Maps
One benefit of creating an empathy map is that it allows designers and customers to work together to consider the perspectives of many different types of customers at the same time. It’s an alternative to the more time-intensive process of creating a series of narrowly focused user personas or characters that represent the perspective of a single hypothetical website visitor (e.g. a male college graduate, age 42).
By working with empathy maps to identify an audience’s high level needs and wishes, the client and designer can quickly and efficiently uncover opportunities to enhance a website’s user experience.
Guerrilla UX research is a set of alternatives to traditional usability testing described above. It enables user experience designers to quickly identify key areas where a website’s effectiveness can be improved. Guerrilla research can be done within any budget and within any time frame.
Some guerrilla research methods include:
- Field observations of users: includes impromptu, loosely structured interviews with real customers that help the designer understand how people interact with a website. For example, a field observation for a retail website might involve surveying customers in a store front. The goal of that testing might be to discover how easily a customer can find a product or make a purchase.
- Remote testing: Designers can use affordable online meeting tools like gotomeeting.com to watch the way that a customer moves through a website and to ask the same types of questions that you might ask in a field observation. The benefit of remote testing is that you can conduct quick tests at every stage of the development cycle.This can be particularly helpful in an agile web development process, where small changes to a site’s design are rolled out very quickly and frequently.
- Unmoderated automated testing: Designers can also use specialized but affordable usability testing tools, such as www.loop11.com, which automatically gathers a customers’ feedback and records their behavior. The benefit to this approach is to replicate traditional usability testing techniques, which strive to gather a customer’s feedback without influencing their behavior or responses.
This Lunch-n-Learn truly gave us a lot of food for thought. James’ healthy meal filled our bellies, while Russ’ tips gave us some great ideas to help clients on a budget.
What tools do you use to gather feedback from your customers? Let us know by leaving a comment below.