If your site is a representation of your entire business, do you want the users to come away feeling frustrated? Of course not! Tense? Confused? Uncertain? No! You want your users to feel informed, confident and relaxed. Remember that users are people too, just like you and I.
The key to user experience (UX) design is to always put your user first. Whether your website has been up and running for twenty years or is just a twinkle in your entrepreneurial eye, remember to always ask:
“What does my user want?”
Use UI Libraries
I work at a web development firm, so I try to answer the “what does my user want?” question all day, every day. I find user experience aggregators to be incredibly helpful. GoodUI.org is one such aggregator, with 72 (and counting) UX tips, explained through simple illustrations like this:
GoodUI.org runs all of its hypotheses through rigorous user testing, to provide a solid data story to back each suggestion.
When creating (or tweaking) the layout of your website, consider starting with the proven recommendations from GoodUI.org. Here are other user interface (UI) tip libraries or blogs you may find helpful:
As you work on your website and analyze your own user data, you can aggregate a list of recommendations into a UI library or blog of your own, so you can keep track of what works best for your specific audience. No one’s insights are more valuable than your own!
Test your UX
You did your homework and built your website with UX recommendations in mind. Good for you! Now it’s time to test and refine.
Easily the most valuable option for small businesses is to perform in-person tests. This involves getting real living, breathing people to agree to test your website in-person. This method is great because it allows you to observe the tester’s body language and encourages more robust observation. To perform in-person testing for your website, follow these steps:
Get users to agree to come in to test your website.
This usually involves some sort of compensation (think: money, food, praise)
Set up the testing environment
Schedule a time, book the room, make sure the internet connection is working, and brew some coffee.
Once the tester(s) arrive, explain to them how the test works and give instructions
I recommend testing only one user at a time. This way everyone’s voice is heard and you eliminate the tendency for “groupthink”
Get the user talking
Start the user off with some gentle probing questions. These questions serve the dual purpose of learning more about the characteristics of this particular user, while also getting the user comfortable talking in the testing environment
Start the test with gut reactions
Typically, you will start by asking the user to take you through his or her gut reactions to a page (usually the home page or landing page). Prompt the user if he or she gets stuck, but for the most part, let the user give you an organic reaction. Some probing questions may include:
Ask the user to complete specific tasks
Write up a few scenarios that you would like the user to complete. These scenarios should include a little back story. For example, if you have a restaurant website, explain to the user what his motivation is for visiting your site. Is he looking for a restaurant to cater his mother’s retirement party? Is he looking for a restaurant within walking distance of his office so he can pick up a sandwich for lunch? Motivations matter, so be specific! Here is an example of a well-written scenario, used to test the site zipcar.com:
When performing this type of testing, prioritize the tasks that you ask your user to complete. Start with the most important task on your site, and see if a user can do it without prompting or frustration.
If you’re unsure what this type of testing looks like, check out this great demo test by Steve Kurg. This type of testing is so valuable because it puts real humans in the driver’s site. It uncovers user experience pitfalls you may never have thought of and gives valuable insight into your users’ psyches.
User testing online
If in-person testing isn’t an option for your business, you can turn to your friend, the Internet, for help. Here are some great resources for online user testing:
These user testing services recruit users who meet your demographic requirements, and record their reactions and responses (usually through audio and video) as they go through your website. Here is a good example of online user testing in action, from usertesting.com. Online user testing is similar to in-person user testing, but may be more realistic if you have limited time or resources available. Online user testing tools range in price from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on your sample size, the depth of testing required, etc.
Don’t have the time or money to invest in online or in-person testing? Reconsider! It’s not usually that difficult or expensive, I promise! If you really are looking for a lower commitment, or if you just need some quick insight, you can dip your toe into user testing with the 5 second test at usabilityhub.com. The 5 second test is similar to online or in-person testing, except that each test lasts only 5 seconds. This type of testing will usually give you a much broader sample size, with much less robust feedback. It is more statistical than observational in nature.
Remember, you did all this testing in the first place to gently guide your fledgling website down a righteous path. All the user testing in the world is totally useless if you don’t use the insights you gain to affect change on your website! During your testing, you should make a list of all of the usability issues you encounter. Now comes the tough part – figuring out how to fix them. You can refer back to user experience libraries, such as goodui.org to inspire your solutions. At the end of the day, the only real way to test if a usability tweak has been successful will be to send it through the testing gauntlet again. Consider using A/B tests or multivariate testing to determine the effect of your changes. Not sure what that means?
The work of refining user experience on your website will never be over. Technologies change, your content and goals will change, and your users will change. What works today is not likely to work in the future, so don’t get complacent! Always test and refine.