Building great websites isn’t easy. Not only do we have to struggle to make them work well, we’ve countless other things that we need to keep in mind. We really have to make our sites work well for our users; it’s hard enough attracting people’s attention without then losing them because our sites are difficult to use.
Software prototyping most definitely has a very important role to play in ensuring that our designs actually work, but as designers and developers we need to be able to make those prototypes work toward something. That something is all about making sure that the designs don’t just work but work in a way that fits in with how real users think.
From time to time I’ve talked about the value of getting immediate and insightful feedback from users throughout the design and development stages of all software projects. Some project teams do this but the sad truth is that this is one area that’s often skipped when the budgets get squeezed and as we all know, if you don’t listen to your customers (the users) there’s a good chance you’ll end up building entirely the wrong kind of thing.
The real problem is that it’s often quite difficult to arrange to get real users in to provide feedback on a design. Firstly, you have to find the users and persuade them (somehow) to participate. This could involve bribes or general coercion, or at least appealing to their kindly nature… wait… anyway, assuming you can find such users you then have to find a suitable place to let them loose on your design. This is sometimes easier said than done, as you’ll likely have to deal with booking a room, sorting out a machine (or several machines) and then once all of this is sorted you have to somehow get the users into the room – with travel expenses and so forth. Not to mention the time taken to actually oversee the user feedback session and then deal with the feedback afterwards.
Yes, it’s traditionally one of those sorts of tasks that grows arms and legs and becomes a right pain in the… well, you get the picture.
Despite all of this hassle it really is very, very important to engage with real users often within the design and development of a software project. Doing so helps steer the design in the right direction, and ensures that not only do the users feel involved in the process, they also feel valued and therefore will love your final product all the more. Well, that’s the theory. Luckily for us, it’s largely true – getting the right user feedback (and acting upon it of course) tends to result in better and more useful software. Which in turn ends up being used.
So, we can’t accept any excuses for avoiding user feedback. It’s vital. Which brings me to one of the really cool things about our connected modern world…
Distributed User Feedback – a solution
What if we could ‘outsource’ the whole user feedback process for a modest fee, avoiding all of the hassles and the (much higher) costs of doing in-house usability feedback? What if we could get ten or twenty real users to give insightful reviews for less than the cost of one ‘expert’ usability analyst?
In recent times, this has become possible. Over the past few years several companies have introduced services which offer just this kind of thing. Many customers have realised the real benefit of user testing at all stages of a website’s design and development, and we’d like to introduce another.
Kupima, which means ‘testing’ in Swahili, is the latest in a series of great web-based user testing and feedback services. How it works is that anyone who has a website (either under development, completed or anything inbetween) can get insightful user feedback (in the form of questionnaire responses and video footage of the user using the website) for not a whole lot more than the cost of a takeout meal. Yes, you heard right: it’s really affordable…
When the customer creates their user test, they select the number of users that they wish to perform that test, and what demographic characteristics they should have. For example, “Females aged between 25 and 35 who are at least advanced in their web experience”. The customer can also create a custom questionnaire which each user would complete during their test…
…and of course there’s a video review from each user as well. This, although optional, is (in my opinion) one of the most valuable parts of a user feedback session. Even doing things the traditional way involves observing users using a website. It’s easy to underestimate just how valuable this process is; not only can we watch what the user does, where she places the mouse-pointer and so on, we can also hear what she is thinking as she does this. The little, off-hand remarks (for example, “oh, now I could see that search button a moment ago but where is it… oh, bother, is it there?”) can reveal problems that real users would face. You therefore get a chance to spot these things and deal with them before they start costing you and your company sales or whatever.
Repeat and Rinse
Running a single feedback test is fine but the true value comes with repeated test and measurement cycles. What Kupima does is makes it much easier to manage successive feedback test campaigns…
This is important because the significance of a change may not be visible from a single test alone. Its impact will need to be tracked over time and the ability to view two or more tests side-by-side means that the effectiveness of a change can be measured and aggregated across a single test and then compared visually against another.
The integrated charting is another powerful feature which makes it very easy to spot a trend in feedback. This feedback is currently limited to summaries across the discrete questions as defined in a customer’s test questionnaire, but there are plans to extend this considerably. It’s certainly powerful in its current state and reduces the time a customer would have to spend looking at the actual responses to questions.
What to do with all of this?
Gathering insightful feedback is all fine and well, but the real key is that feedback only becomes the ‘secret sauce’ if it is actually added to the overall mix. In other words, you need to pay attention to the feedback and spot the messages that it is giving you. This might mean that you need to adjust the layout of one page, or change the wording of another. It might mean that you should think carefully about the sequencing of fields, or (if you are very lucky) it might simply give re-assurance that your design is on the right path.
Whatever the outcome, knowing where a design is less than perfect is half the battle. It allows you to prioritise improvements and fine-tune your design so that it works better for your users.
And happy users are the best kind to have.
We’ve now launched, so if you’d like to give our service a try, use the following code for a 1/3 discount (enter at checkout): KBPROM62K11