Teaching Examples

Find out how incomprehensible that Web site really is
January 6, 2007, 1:02 pm
Filed under: audiences, design, online, usability

We’ve all seen more than enough ugly and hard-to-use Web sites and online journalism packages, yes? The answer: Conduct a little quick-and-dirty user testing. It’s cheap! (It can be free!) And it’s easy!

… your users may not be like you at all. When they are not, it’s all the more important to run usability tests. Testing on friends, family and co-workers is better than not doing usability tests at all, but it can’t be compared to testing on actual samples of your intended audience. People who would use the system will provide more genuine feedback and deeper insight.

Never let your test subjects put themselves in the shoes of your ‘actual’ users. For example, you should discourage comments like “Well, I would do this BUT if I was a bus driver I’d do that.” Users are not qualified to put themselves in the position of others. Inaccurate data is often worse than no data.

Aim for five or six test subjects: any more and you probably won’t learn anything new; any less and you’re likely to be overwhelmed by issues stemming from people’s individual personalities.

This wise advice (and more) comes from Fast and Simple Usability Testing, by Natalie Downe, a Web developer. It’s not one bit geeky, so you can understand it just fine — I promise! It’s part of a fine collection of Web design brilliance called 24 Ways to Impress Your Friends.

The “takeaway” for everyone in journalism is this: YOU and your colleagues in the newsroom are NOT like people outside journalism. We always kid ourselves about this, and we need to stop doing that. Go out and get some non-journalists to tell you what they really think about your online work.

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3 Comments so far
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24 Ways is a very good resource for designers and developers alike.

Another cheap and easy usability testing resource I’ve recently provided to a colleague is a chapter in Steve Krug‘s book Don’t Make Me Think.

The entire book should be a mandatory read for anyone working on the Web, but the chapter in question provides a lot of insight for online folks handed an assignment of testing a new site with two weeks to launch. Not that I’ve ever been given that responsibility before. 🙂

Comment by Patrick

You are so right, Patrick — I am just skimming the second edition of Krug’s great book now because I am requiring students to read it this semester.

For more detail, I recommend Observing the User Experience, by Mike Kuniavsky. Someone whose main job is designing sites and packages could learn a lot from it.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

My students discovered this a couple of semesters ago in a web journalism class, where they designed an entire site and then I forced them to go out in the hall and grab some teachers and students to try to find their way around the site. Students watched as the “subjects” stumbled through their navigation, which they argued for over my objections.

I am now a big proponent of including this as an assignment in any class – an idea I got from Candace Eagan at CSU Fresno (here’s a link to her presentation link.

Comment by Murley

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