26 May 2007

Usability Testing Driving Office Unity

Good Morning...

I know a great number of people tout the benefits of having Usability Testing performed on their site as part of their optimization efforts. Most of these include things like uncovering how real people are using cues to navigate your site, or the web in general, or how your site meets up with expectations. Little is ever mentioned about the really incredible socially fusing properties for diverse disciplines within the workplace.

We perform, on average, 4-6 usability tests per month for the sites which I am currently analyzing. Every other week we schedule and perform three tests. To do this, my employer set out a budget and some space where we took the time to set up a Usability Testing Lab. This is an office in which we created a sense of comfort with some light colors and more home styled office furniature and ambience. We added some lighting to offset the typical flourescent setup and put some plants and artwork in there for added flavor. Lastly, we installed a software called Morae (product review available soon through this blog) and with a Logitech Camera/Microphone, we're off and running.

Well, first, let me say that in terms of value of the investment, Usability Test is one of the more immediately actionable tests with a sudden measurable lift and a long tail. In other words, it provides key insights to all the major areas of the site that help contribute to conversion. It can be really exciting and really scary at times to see the types of things you may have overlooked. Ultimately, not matter what, performing scientific usability testing is worth its cost plenty of times over. There are also added value items which I never expected.

As our tests approach every couple weeks, you can catch the buzz in the office. People know they are coming up and are constantly asking me who is testing, what we're looking at, how their ideas are working out....its really neat. Then, the Thursday morning comes for the test and all of the departments can opt to be observers for the tests. Offices get crammed up in every corner of the building to see the test. We script out the first couple minutes of the test and then, extemporaneously, follow the lead of the subject. After about 30-40 minutes, we shore up the loose ends in the testing and close the connection. By the time the manager files are converted, we have a time set up when the observers and the stakeholders can get together in an office where we pool our thoughts and share ideas about the improvement of the experience.

I kid you not, I've suggested creating highlight reels of this and getting together with the whole of the local employees for the purpose of hanging out and watching these videos. I also create parsed videos with which to analyze multiple experiences for the purpose of specific departments to deal with particular elements of the design, navigation, or further analyze sections provided by outsourced agencies. People in the office have actually come to me to attempt burning usability DVDs so that they can take a look at home and jot down some additional thoughts.

I understand that there are investment considerations in the ability to perform usability testing. In all, the cost to get the software, labor to script and develop testing, the PC, the materials and labor to prepare a proper setting...its probably about $5000.00 or just under it. To get a steady picture about the problems hindering your conversion is worth the cost in a single test. If the lifetime value of a customer is impacted by a single sale with their ease of navigation or the implementation of new, more relevant images or cues, you'll triple your investment, at least, in the first changes you make. (While I say "triple" figuratively, I may be completely underestimating the ROI only because I'm trying to stay casual and effective in my communication of the point.)

If you would like to, please contact me and we can discuss Usability Testing or any analysis issue you may have, at length, so long as it does not inhibit my ability to perform for my employer.

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