London software testing news UK

Usability testing is key

Posted in Acceptance testing by testing in London on October 25, 2007

From m-net

Businesses that rely on their web presence are being told to test their site’s usability early and often if they want to maximise effectiveness.

Trent Mankelow, a senior usability consultant and co-founder of local company Optimal Usability, told a New Zealand Computer Society audience today in Wellington that all websites should be checked to some degree to ensure users find them easy to use, easy to understand and satisfying.

He used work the company did with one of New Zealand’s biggest websites – Telecom’s now defunct XtraMSN portal – to demonstrate the effectiveness that even basic testing can have.

He said that in 2004, Telecom wanted to showcase and boost broadband use, and used Optimal Usability to measure the effectiveness of key changes it had made to the website. Testing was conducted over three days, measuring the reactions of five representative users each day.

Mankelow says they quickly discovered users were baffled by XtraMSN’s key change and main selling point for the still new broadband technology – a flash-based photo gallery. Some users thought the gallery was an advert and ignored it, while most did not understand that they could control the gallery.

After making seven recommendations on layout changes, such as slowing photo transition times, removing photo fade and moving control arrows, Mankelow says XtraMSN doubled broadband uptake and subsequently won a number of awards for the website.

In 2006, the company again tested changes to the XtraMSN home page made to maximise page impressions to its channel or subject pages. It eventually adopted a side bar of grouped channels based on the subject – such as Rugby or Entertainment – and also on the subject’s popularity with users.

However, Mankelow says usability testing need not be an expensive or time consuming exercise.

“As long as the users are representative – not your colleagues, but someone who will typically use the site in the real world – even testing just one user will be better than no one at all,” he says.

Mankelow suggests that, ideally, at least five users should be tested in order to establish patterns of behaviour that highlight design problems. “But most importantly, you should test early and test often.”

Other advice includes: always inform users what a link will do (whether it will download a PDF, for example); users always hate pop up adverts; to test whether your site caters for the colour blind, print it out in black and white; and go to a free usability advice website developed by the US government at:

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