There’s no head slap like the head slap you give yourself while watching an innocent visitor stumble through your website. Sure it stings, but you know that it’s good for you and that soon you’ll feel better. It’s a zesty, positive head slap.
←That’s why this guy is smiling.
What’s that? You haven’t done any user testing lately? People: This is more important than flossing and Pilates.
Seriously, you’ll be amazed at the practical power of this relatively simple process. As users stare cluelessly at what you thought were crystal clear navigation labels, as they look right past that big important button as if it were invisible, and as they wander off in search of their quarry along paths that you never intended them to take—you’ll be collecting a nice, specific to-do list of inescapable, undeniable, fundamental flaws that need fixing.
If I sound a tad zealous, that’s probably because Susan and I have been in the midst of user testing for the re-designed version of the West Gold Editorial site—yes, the very site you are looking at. If you could see me right now (no, that’s not me in the picture), you’d be able to make out the palm prints on my forehead. But it hurts so good. We’ve made necessary renovations and will check that we’ve solved the problems with another round of testing. With each set of revisions, our site is becoming vastly more user-friendly.
The good news is that user testing doesn’t have to be a major production. And, according to such experts as usability guru Jakob Nielsen, you can do it yourself using a handful of test subjects. Nielsen advises that testing with just three to five users should help you spot the most critical problems on your site.
Ready to try it? Then help yourself to Guerilla User Testing, our guide to giving your site a usability reality check in a few hours.This is an update of a simple, step-by-step routine we used for many years in website critique sessions at the Stanford Publishing on the Web workshop.
The guide has examples of user tasks that you’ll need to write up ahead of time, step-by-step instructions for taking each subject through the test in a neutral manner, and lots of other tips.
Here’s one piece of critical advice to keep in mind as you conduct this humbling, sometimes nerve-wracking exercise. The user is never wrong. Or dim-witted. Or too unsophisticated. Your site must accommodate the way that real live people think and act. The user is always right.
But (sound of head being slapped) you knew that.