The other day I was at one of my favorite wineries. Mid-tasting the winemaker went off script and asked me to follow him to the barrel room, where he asked me to taste chardonnay created just a few days before. I know little to nothing about winemaking, and tried to tell him my insight wouldn’t be worth much. As a repeat customer, he told me I couldn’t be more wrong.
I tasted, commented, and he wrote notes. He told me there was still time to make tweaks. As part of the target market he wants to like and buy the wine, my input was valuable.
I started to wonder why this doesn’t happen more at wineries, but then saw the parallel with website usability testing. I have been part of the development or redevelopment of more than 100 websites. Precious few have involved any kind of usability testing in the process.
Most clients don’t want to spend the money and/or think that testing will derail a speedy results. Wrong and wrong. Not doing the testing is however the best way to miss the important details that can really make a redesign a waste of time and money.
Usability testing can take many forms, but the basic is quick, easy, and effective. All you need to do is to define a few tasks that you want a user to be able to do at the site. (These tasks are best tied to your goals for the site; if a goal is to get more event registrations, test that process.)
Then all you need is five people to perform the tasks while you look over their shoulders (literally or figuratively with software like GoToMeeting.) Really, you only need five users to get the insights you need to make your redesign great.
My expereince is that the results of such testing rarely mean a major redo of the decisions carefully made during the resdesign process. What they do lead to is the changes and refinements that take a website from good to great, from almost to wow.
Give it a try!