Website design offers an interesting example of how art, science and technology combine to make something functional and beautiful. But, if you've been involved in a website redesign, you know that art, science and technology can clash just as easily. When you add more than one person's opinion to the mix, you're almost certain to run into conflict, which is why design-by-committee can make things difficult.
So what can you do to resolve internal design conflicts as they arise?
The answer is usability testing. How does it work?
As an example, if you're debating certain design elements such as color choice, layout, the visibility of a call to action, or wording of copy, you can rely on your own opinions or experience. Or, you can learn from real people who are using your website -- your customers -- and let them decide.
- First, define your goals for testing and the questions you're looking to answer.
- Visit UserTesting.com (or another similar service) to recruit 5-8 test participants from your target audience. (Note: UserTesting.com works well for general market research, not pages behind passwords or pages that aren't ready for "soft launch.")
- Give them a link to the area of your website you want them to test, after making sure everything they will see is functional and not distractingly unfinished.
- Assign 2-3 specific tasks you want them to accomplish.
- Consider instructing participants to test comparable pages on your competitors' sites in order to determine if they prefer your competitors' approach or yours.
- Since you'll get a video recording of the test participant's screen and voice, ask them to "think out loud," allowing you to note where they get confused, frustrated, or pleasantly surprised.
- Finally, ask thoughtful, unbiased, open-ended questions after the test that are designed to draw out your participants' thoughts and insights.
The more variations of each page's design you test in this manner, the deeper your insight into how effective your site can eventually be.
While the results from these tests aren't always crystal clear, the findings can usually answer your pressing web design and writing questions. And you've made the right choice by letting your customer make the call rather than the highest paid person on the review team or having your review team compromise on a subpar solution.
Of course, every web designer needs to combine art, science, and technology according to his own unique perspective. But with the addition of usability testing, your customers' perspectives can produce and even better final product.