One of the key ingredients (there are others) to a great user experience is user research. User research is performed to find out what works best for customers (be it the product for sale, the website design, the way users access that website or anything else regarding the experience a user has of the brand/its products/its website).
Here are 4 key ideas to get you inside the minds of your customers and tailor products/websites for them.
1. You are not your customer
You know your product and website inside-out. Your average customer does not have all that insight and therefore uses your website in an entirely different way.
2. Testing will always provide useful insights
Testing a website on customers can reveal a lot of crucial issues: be it with the product on sale, the site’s features, its look & feel, the devices used by users… Designers and company owners are always surprised by unexpected ways users visit their sites.
Designers are experts (they bring on their experience and design principles), but for all the above reasons, testing should never be short-circuited.
3. You can easily fit usability testing into a low budget
The best tests are as similar as possible to the real use of your site, on real customers. That said, any test is better than no test. I get best results when following these rules:
- you don’t need a lab; a meeting room or any other place akin the usual place where users visit your site
- you can test a paper prototype (a sketch of your website)
- test on 5 to 10 users is usually sufficient for small/medium sites (experts Jakob Nielsen and Steve Krug agree)
- each test and interview to last no more than 1 hour (past that user will loose focus)
- combine testing with interview. The test will tell you how customers visit your site. The interview tell you why/what matters to customers.
- in-person or by Skype
- test early and often – Every 4 to 6 weeks is ideal
For very large sites, a larger research programme maybe be necessary. The beauty of low-budget testing is that it gives quick results and can be best incorporated throughout the project.
4. Everyone in the team shall attend tests
Involving the whole team in testing will improve the website:
- invite anyone in the team to observe the test: they will soon realise how important it is – they will empathise with users
- to motive them: offer snacks and drinks, involve them in debriefing activities (discussing test results and solutions)
- understand what matters to your colleagues and show them how they could benefit from testing. For instance for developers, testing will root out issues early so developers will waste less time altering their work
Read more arguments against testing avoidance.
Additional ideas to improve usability buy-in, from UIE, User Interface Engineering.