5 lessons learned + 1 video on remote #highered web usability testing

September 20th, 2012 Karine Joly No Comments

Usability testingI ran my first round of usability testing sessions a couple of weeks ago. And, it was a true eye-opener. I knew testing with users was the right thing to do, but didn’t imagine that it could be SO helpful in rethinking how things are done on your website or even with your internal processes.

I explained in a previous post that the book Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug guided me through the general process as well as the nittty-gritty details. While the book includes a chapter about usability testing done remotely, I still encountered a few new issues when I ran my own remote sessions.

So, here are my tips if you want to give a try to remote usability testing:

  1. Use a screensharing application and don’t forget to test everything before the session.
    I used Webex because I already have an account and it includes the audio and recording feature, but any application that will allow you to see the screen of your remote participant will do the work just fine as long as you also have an application to record what happens on the screen along with the audio. In his book, Steve Krug gives some recommendations. It is VERY important to test everything before the start of the session – including the recording.
  2. Tell your participants you will test a different website that the one you want to test when you scheduled your sessions.
    I tested our current website and found out that some eager participants had browsed the website just before the session — to get ready for the test. This doesn’t totally ruin the findings, but it can skew them a little bit. If your test participants browse your website ahead of time, you’re losing the element of surprise and they might be able to figure out some of your website quirks while you’re not watching. So, make sure they don’t know what website will be tested during the session. If you’re testing as part of a redesign, this will be a given.
  3. Ask your participants to state their name and confirmed they give you permission to record the session once you start the recording.
    For an on-site session you will ask your participant to sign your consent form. This part is trickier for remote sessions. You could send the form ahead of time and ask your participants to sign and scan it, but let’s say you might lose a few participants in this cumbersome process. So, what I chose to do instead is to explain why the session needed to be recorded (following Steve Krug’s script). Then, when my participants agreed to be recorded, I started the recording and ask them to state their name and confirm they gave us permission to record the session.
  4. Prepare an email for your participants with the tasks you want to test and send it only when it’s time to complete these tasks.
    Obviously, you don’t want to send them the scenarios ahead of time to make sure they won’t practice on their own. In his book, Steve Krug explains that you should read them the task scenario at the start. In an on-site session you also give a print-out of the tasks to the participant. For remote sessions, it is a bit more tricky as you cannot make eye contact with the participant to make sure they actually listen to you and aren’t checking email while you read. While I did read them the tasks, I believe it would be better to ask the participant to read the task out loud and tell them to refer to the description while they try to complete the task if they need to.
  5. Last but not least: don’t shoot for perfect, aim for good enough.
    Remote testing might not provide as much information as on-site testing. However, if you want to test your website with busy alums, donors or even prospective students and their parents, it will give you plenty of very useful insights. And, don’t forget that some usability testing is ALWAYS better than none as it can also “shame” you into taking care of the major pain points of your website by changing your perspective from website designer/developer/manager to website user.

Want to see a short excerpt from one of the sessions I ran?

Deborah Blanchard, Communications and Marketing Director at Lynchburg College (VA), has given me the permission to share this 2-minute video excerpt that shows how she started to tackle the following task I asked her to complete:

“You are looking for a solution to improve your (or one of your direct reports) skills in web and social media writing before the kick-off of a big project on December 1st aiming to redesign the web and mobile presence of your institution/school. Your boss authorized a $1,000 budget for this purpose”

Writing Course4-week online course: Writing for Social Media and the Web in Higher Ed
asynchronous with weekly lessons and written assignments
Only 10 seats per session