Pure “Usability” testing is no longer enough

We live in a very different world to when usability testing was first introduced and encouraged…

The way organisations engage with their customers online and via digital channels can make or break their business. If you’re not Google, Amazon, or another company with a brand identity and value proposition that are recognised and understood across the world, you can’t afford to just do usability testing…
Here’s why:

Traditionally, when ‘UX’ was in its infancy and the concept of designing digital interfaces to be user-focussed was still a novel premise – ‘Usability’ testing was conducted. This type of testing focused purely on whether a user was able to complete a task successfully without error and was mostly used to answer questions such as “Do users know where to click to perform this action?”, “Do users know what this icon means?” and “Do users know how to return to the homepage?”.

This was immensely important research to conduct and usability testing highlighted the tremendous confusion that can be created for a user when ambiguous or unfamiliar icons, layouts and terminology are used. Over time, companies learned of the impact that a poorly designed interface could have on their customers, and began to adopt the principles of user-centred design advocates such as Jakob Nielsen – who’s famous heuristics included the important rules of maintaining consistency, creating visibility, and matching systems to real world concepts.

Whilst usability and user-centred design principles are still the fundamental backbone of UX as an approach and a philosophy, their adoption has led us to a point where interfaces are now considerably more usable.

A side by side example of how the Nottinghamshire County Council has changed to deliver a clearer and simpler UX (2005 vs 2018).

The difference between the devices and interfaces that were used when Jakob Nielsen introduced his design heuristics, compared to the systems we use today is quite astonishing. Our computers and phones are immeasurably more complex and powerful, and the tasks we use them for are vastly more diverse.

Technological progress is made at an unprecedented rate, meaning that in what seems like an incredibly small amount of time, our industry has changed and adapted to one where you would now be hard-pushed to find a website with the classic UX issues which were so prevalent just a decade ago.

It would be foolish and naive to assume that this means we’re now all total, undeniable experts at designing for users. In reality, digital interfaces have become far more prevalent and are a considerably more essential part of our day to day lives. With the basics of UX principles now more widely understood and adopted, we need to be doing far more than just ‘usability’ testing.

One reason for this is the dramatic shift in the websites and apps we all use and have access to. In the early days of UX when usability testing first emerged, users were mostly testing the websites of large, existing companies that they already knew and were already customers of – such as supermarkets, high-street retailers, airlines, and travel agents. For these companies, a website was a new asset, but it wasn’t yet an absolutely integral and critical part of their business – much of their revenue and traffic was still from offline sources.

Now, we live in a world of industry disrupters and technology start-ups where their first and potentially only asset, is a website. Almost overnight, we have all become inhabitants of a new online battleground, where a plethora of companies you may never have heard of or used before are all competing and vying for your attention, your money and your custom.

The Internet has levelled the playing field for businesses in a way we have never seen before – meaning a new start-up with nothing more than a great marketing campaign and a flashy website can steal customers from a huge multi-million pound company who’s own website doesn’t quite stir up the same levels of excitement.

Usability testing is no longer enough because we now live in a world where a user’s first experience of a company is their website. We can no longer just ask questions about whether a user understands an icon, or knows where to click. Usability is just as important as ever, but we now also need to answer far more fundamental questions such as – “Does the user understand what this company is offering?”, “What does the user expect to be able to use this website for?” and “What factors would influence the users decision to sign up to this service?”.

This is the fundamental difference between traditional usability testing and how we conduct our research and testing at Userfy. We cover a lot more ground and generate insights far more paramount to the overall success of your business. We’ve worked hard to optimise our research process to reflect the fact that we now live in a world where a company’s online presence often is their business.

 

You can find out more about Userfy’s research process over on our Services page.

Dr Sam Howard
Meet the author:
Co-Founder and Director of Research at Userfy
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