Marking your own homework?
Website usability research is an important aspect in designing and developing website and apps. Done properly it can enhance the process, immeasurably improve the functionality and user experience of your site and iron out problems or wrinkles before they even occur. It is the technical equivalent of product testing in the marketing world of physical products – and every bit as vital and useful.
As with all forms of research there are limits to its usefulness and constraints and caveats that need to be taken account of when constructing the tests. The technical issues regarding the different techniques, methods, equipment and so on have been dealt with in other areas of this blog; here I want to look at the problems of designers developing the research protocols or even undertaking research on their own designs. This is the equivalent of constructing your own parameters for success and acceptance according to what you already know you have built into the site. So a positive outcome can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some observers have characterised this as ‘marking your own homework.’ Surely we would all be A+ should this be the case!
I am not saying that all designers would deliberately skew research to give favourable outcomes to their work but what needs to be considered carefully here is that it will be very difficult for someone who has been intimately connected with the development, and knows all the features and how they work, to construct a purely objective and reasoned appraisal test. And of course, the issue of the quality of the original specification and model would come into play here. If there was a flaw in the concept there would, almost inevitably, be a flaw in the research if it was conducted by the person who designed the concept.
Another major factor that needs to be closely scrutinised is that of expertise. Web designers and developers are unlikely to be expert testers and researchers; sure they will know about, and probably understand, the principles and even the techniques but they won’t be immersed in it on a day-to-day basis and understand all the nuances and subtleties – or necessarily be up-to-date with all the innovations in technique, equipment and analysis.
The ideal situation is really to test at every stage of the development so problems are identified early in the process and the final model that is developed is as close to optimum functionality as possible. Time and financial constraints might not always allow such diligence so sometimes compromise solutions will be required. But what shouldn’t be compromised is the objective and quality of the final user testing. If this is done objectively, by specialists using the right tools and techniques and in the right environment then it will provide invaluable insight into how your user interface works and if there are any major problems from the usability aspect. If this identifies a situation where you need to go back several steps in the process to rectify the problem, so be it. The consequent delays and potential cost are still infinitely preferable to putting out a dysfunctional site and damaging your reputation and customer relationships in one fell swoop.
If you have concerns about this aspect of web design or need information or advice on any other areas of website usability, why not tap into our extensive knowledge by giving us a call free on 08000 246 247 or dropping us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.