I am a strong proponent of software usability testing. I have written in the past on best practices for software usability testing. But one of the time consuming tasks of doing such tests is recruiting users for a usability test, especially when it comes to consumer applications. It appears that this should be easy because everyone is a consumer. True, a pitfall you want to avoid is self referential design – you may unknowingly select those who are likely to agree with you, they may think like you, they already know what you do and they may likely not want to tell you that your baby (your product) is ugly – so in some ways they are tainted.
This is why I have fallen in love with a site called usertesting.com. I used it recently for the first time and I have to tell you I just love it. The results I got were just awesome and it involved very minimal setup.
Here is how it works – you fill out a simple form where you explain the scenario to be presented to the user, the site the users should use and the tasks that they should do. You select the type of users you want by specifying gender, age, country (US, UK or Canada), household income and web expertise level. Usertesting.com even allows you to select your own customers instead of using users from their database. The test costs mere $39/user and I was able to get results very quickly. You even get a high quality video of each user doing the tasks – how great is that! In one case, I had a poor quality video from one of the testers, I wrote to their customer support, they agreed and gave me a free credit for another test to make up for this. So five stars there as well!
One enhancement I would like to see is, being able to first select if I want to use one of their highly rated testers or not and then specify all of the other qualifying criteria. This way, I can specify that I want to use their highly rated testers who are male, aged 55 years or older with an annual income of less than $40,000 and who have advanced web skills. Everything can be done except the last step. I would also like to select a region in the United States. For example, I may want testers from the West Coast vs. say the midwest. If I get a selection of states available, it would be awesome. I would think that these are very simple UI fixes because they already have all of the other elements in their user database.
I wholeheartedly agree with the testimonial of Evan Williams (co-founder of Twitter) – “Use it and your site will become better.”
Now, should this be the sole way you do usability testing? – No! I strongly recommend that you still do one on one usability testing you do,and then use usertesting.com to get more datapoints so that you can get more data points very quickly.
Image: Courtesy of usertesting.com
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