Usability is about making a product that is effective, efficient and easy to use. The marketplace is saturated by competitors and alternative options, so for your service or product to stand out you from the crowd you need to ensure you meet your user’s expectations. Usability testing gives you that unique insight.
However usability testing can be an expensive and time consuming exercise. Although the results are undoubtedly valuable, often finding the time and justifying the cost of a full scale user test can be difficult. Here we share a few quick checks and changes you can employ on your site or application to improve usability and user experience. As well as some rapid testing methods to help you evaluate and iterate changes.
Usability Quick Wins
#1: Load web pages quickly
Studies have shown that 53% of mobile users leave a page that doesn’t load within three seconds. With this in mind, checking your website page speeds on desktop and mobile has never been more important. There are a couple of ways to check this. The most obvious being to grab a mobile device and check your site on various network speeds (WiFi, 3G, 4G). For a more technical approach you can use a diagnostic tool like Google’s PageSpeed Insights to find out what might be holding your content back. Quick fixes for low page speeds include reducing image sizes, compressing code (by removing unnecessary spaces and characters) and loading critical resources first (deferring offscreen content).
Where loading is essential, always give the user a visual indication that something is happening, such as a loading icon or a progress bar.
Faster is better, just look at the stats from a recent Google study:
#2: Create an informative tagline
Less than 15 seconds. That’s how long most users stay on a webpage before they click away. This is how long you have to capture their attention, so you need to ensure the purpose of your application is clear. Not only will this increase the usability but it will also improve your bounce rate.
Your proposition needs to be visible on all landing pages (not everyone arrives via the home page!) and written in a tone that is understandable by your target audience. Include a tagline on your site or in your app description that describes the product or service in one or two sentences at most. Not only will this reassure users they are in the right place, the upfront disclosure will encourage a feeling of trust and credibility.
User experience experts Nielsen Norman Group have a great article with some exercises and guidelines you can follow to create an effective tagline that will take you no more than 30 minutes to do.
The tagline “We offer robust, affordable solutions to suit all walking requirements” is vague and uses in appropriate language. Compared to “Find a great selection of men’s and women’s hiking books for sale both in store and online” which is informative and promotes the site.
#3: Banish disruptive content
Disruptive content is anything that is unexpected, irrelevant or uncontrollable to the user. When navigating through the user journey, being presented with content that doesn’t progress the user to their goal could cause them to abandon the flow.
Typical and prevalent examples of disruptive content are pop-ups or overlays for newsletter sign-ups, videos that autoplay with sound and sticky adverts or buttons that remain on the screen when you scroll. These are intrusive and distract the user from completing their journey – in the case of autoplaying sound, this can even be embarrassing. Imagine opening a website to browse shoes whilst on the train home and surprising your fellow passengers with a few seconds of music. In this context, it’s easy to picture the user quickly closing the website and forgetting they ever went there.
Try going through your key user journeys and identify any content that isn’t related to your journey, or takes you out of the flow. Consider repositioning promotions, cross-sells and data-capture to areas outside of the critical path to conversion.
In this example, a poorly placed newsletter promotion overlay appears on a page where the user is trying to purchase a product. As the user attempts to click the ‘Add to cart’ button a newsletter promotional overlay pops up over the button, preventing the button from being clicked and disrupting them from their original task.
Rapid Usability Testing Techniques
#1: The 5 second test
The five second test is a qualitative research method that involves asking users (these could be colleagues, friends or family) to look at a design or page for 5 seconds, then taking the design away. You then ask your user to answer several quick questions on what they remember about the design such as ‘What is the purpose of the page?’. Answers can be extremely informative and flag any critical issues before you get too far into the product lifecycle.
The great thing about the five second test is it’s extremely flexible, repeatable and low cost. You can use anything from paper prototypes to an application on a desktop or mobile and you can immediately start making changes based on the results.
#2: Card Sorting
Card sorting is another research method that focuses on information architecture (IA). A card sort can provide insight into how your users categorise information such as menu items, page titles or product types.There are two types of card sort, open and closed.
Open card sorting gives the participant free reign to create their own categories. This is a great exploratory technique that can help you discover options you might never have thought of yourself.
Closed card sorting is slightly more restricted. Participants are given a set of categories and asked to sort the items into each category. This is a really quick way to inform a decision on how to organise information.
Both methods only require a handful of participants and some post-it notes or cards. There is also a plethora of online card sorting tools available that make it even more convenient, allowing you to send out your tasks to users online.
In this example, a user is ordering cards labelled with food items such as ‘Apples’ and ‘Brie’ into columns labelled ‘Fruits’, ‘Vegetables’ and ‘Dairy’. This is a closed card sort as it uses predefined categories.
If your website is already live and you want to get feedback, one of the easiest ways to gather both qualitative and quantitative data is by using surveys.
There are a number of ways you can deliver a survey to your users, the fastest being to implement a feedback page, sticky bar or pop-up on your website. There are a whole host of services that can make this easier such as HotJar and MouseFlow. Be warned, these types of surveys can be an annoyance to users and should be placed carefully so they do not distract or disrupt users during their journey. Our recommendation is to place them at the end of the journey or in a follow up email.
Using ratings in surveys can be a great way to get a range of responses in a measurable format that can be compared against in later iterations. Give users the opportunity to leave a free text comment (but don’t make it mandatory!). One good suggestion from one user could improve the user experience for hundreds more. For example, the GOV.UK Design System uses a non-invasive message at the top of the page asking for feedback.
Usability testing and best practices play a pivotal role in creating the best user experience. Although assessing the usability of your product can be expensive or time consuming there are small things you can do to improve the UX of your application.