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What We Learned from Participants
Testing is Required as Part of the Process

  • Without feedback from the user population, the design will likely miss its mark
  • User-Centered Design workshops
  • Make usability failures Severity One
  • Informal testing
  • Do it early

As we saw during the workshop, problems in workflow, interaction style, and presentation were found. This is due to the "same as me" problem. Developers, in general, design for themselves, assuming that everyone is the same as them. Although this a gross overgeneralization, it does reflect a trend in design, which will likely become more of a problem on the web because of the vast number of new designers building web sites. Our participants were able to quickly change their interfaces when they found usability issues pointed out by their user or guest testers. The groups did not have enough time to truly hash out detailed solutions to every question or problem presented, but they did recognize the user interface complexity of even these supposedly "simple" design problems.

We offered some solutions to help get some form of testing into the process. One possibility is to hold user-centered design workshops led by an expert facilitator. The experience an expert can bring to the design workshop is really impressive. We highly recommend this process and we frequently get experienced facilitators to help us with our design projects. This process, which usually lasts about 3 days, embeds user feedback into the design process, and sets the stage for users to want to participate in future activities, such as testing. There is nothing better than the word of mouth from a user who participated in a workshop.

Another suggestion is to try to elevate major usability roadblocks to "severity one" error status. In most organizations this means high priority is given to the problem. And in the future you can set the stage for additional user testing to help avoid these types of late, and usually expensive, fixes.

Finally, try to have some informal testing. The earlier the better. It costs almost nothing to change a paper prototype widget from a pop-down menu to a scrolling list, but costs significantly more to build, debug, and test this change late in the development process. Informal testing can take many forms; walkthroughs with a paper prototype, using six people in the hallway to test some icons, even building fake screens in Illustrator or in HTML can be quick and effective. Usability testing is a learning process, the more you learn now the more effective your design later.

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Updated: 01.20.1998