Keep Costs Low and Benefits High with Focused User Testing

Tara Loosvelt  

May 08, 2012

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A design process that includes user testing is one of the most powerful and effective ways to collect qualitative data, which can dramatically improve business. In a new study conducted by Forrester consulting on behalf of Extractable, Data Driven Design: Digital Experience Teams Are Focused On Website Metrics That Don't Demonstrate Business Value (April 2012), almost half (47%) of participants didn't conduct Usability Testing because of a lack of Infrastructure, skills, or it being too expensive.

User testing need not be elaborate or even expensive to get crucial results for businesses. It is simply a matter of baking it into the process and keeping focused on business outcome.

User testing helps explain metrics to tell a complete story

Focused user testing begins with the qualitative method of finding the biggest areas of opportunity on sites through analytics and metrics. At Extractable we often look to analytics and metrics to identify areas worth looking into more closely. The qualitative methods of being able to explain them can significantly affect business outcome.

Combining quantifiable with qualitative approaches yield the highest return by telling a complete story of why something is happening. Evaluating opportunities with this combined effort of understanding complex metrics is crucial for creating successful strategies for design with the biggest impact on business outcome. For example, Analytics may be telling you that visitors are bouncing from the homepage after only 5 seconds. A trained eye with a qualitative data skill set would be able to dive deeper into this identified area of opportunity. Investigation of many different pieces of information such as the product offered is crucial.

It leads to really crucial theories such as "The business proposition and offering is presented at such a high level that it pertains to everyone but essentially talks to no one." From this, underlying concepts develop into specific design solutions aimed at solving problems and challenges that directly affect business outcome. In this example, a concept could be "Users are unable to identify and relate to the product and therefore abandon the site." As design takes this further and develops a prototype addressing this issue, the theory can be proven by seeing positive patterns form across multiple users with various quotes, completion rates, etc.

Customers validate solutions and give user centric insights in testing sessions.

Listening to customers in usability testing can help to solve particular problems but more importantly can validate solutions and make designs better. In user testing, participants are encouraged to talk out loud as they interact with your site, ultimately giving you insights into their mental models through the language they use to describe it.

Through this comes confidence that you are building features that are wanted, needed and will be used. Getting at the heart of the matter of course is important to enhance your experience and induce a positive emotive response in people. Users notice many things in web experiences and directly relate them as a reflection of the company itself, making a big impact.

Baking user testing into the design process keeps it closely tied to project goals

Writing scripts and moderating sessions as part of the design process, keeps user-testing results focused and relative as well as keeping extraneous information to a minimum. This approach to testing targets specific areas of the site that related directly to the business outcome. Whether it be measuring engagement or gaining insights into expectations, this type of qualitative information is essential to determining improvements with conversion rates and other business metrics.

The benefits of stopping a project before it goes into production in order to do user testing are significantly out weighed. If, for example, you find out early that no one is seeing a horizontal scrollbar and missing hidden content in over half of the interface, you can tweak this bit and get it right before it goes into development instead of doubling development time which is much more costly.

Sometimes tweaks aren't so clearly isolated and can create a domino effect on the entire Information Architecture ecosystem maximizing one feature and impacting another negatively. Sketching a few solutions while taking into considerations the tradeoffs for each can also be better understood in iterative testing. Inviting participants to evaluate the implications of various changes objectively assures the continued improvement based on real customer experience.


In order to keep user testing costs low and benefits high, focus on combining quantitative and qualitative methods, validate with customer insights while keeping it a part of the design process and closely tied to business outcome.