It’s Important to Take Really Good Notes During Usability Test Observation

I’ve been involved in quite a bit of formal usability testing over the years and the one thing I’ve noticed that seems to be most often overlooked is observational note-taking. The moderator is likely to be the person with the best insights, but unfortunately she’s busy at the time the notes should be taken, so that leaves it to observers.

In some studies, the end result of each task is the important information. However, in a usability study, it’s the path to the end result that matters most. For instance, while it is important that the participant was able to get to the correct page, it is much more important to know that it took him four tries. And it’s important to know the details. Where did he go those first three times? Did he realize he had made a mistake, or was he prompted to try again? Why did he make the choices he made? All these things give us a wealth of information about where issues may lie in the website being tested.

Whether you’re using eye-tracking equipment or standard click and trace-tracking, you want to remember a few key things when taking notes.

  1. Consistency – make sure that you use consistent terminology from one task to the next and one participant to the next. That will ensure that any good analyst can decipher your notes.
  2. Details – this can’t be overstated. Write as much as you possibly can. Those who review your notes will not have the benefit of seeing the testing live; they won’t be able to observe body language, maybe not even facial expressions or tone of voice, so it’s critical that you note everything you possibly can.
  3. Precision – be precise with your language, with your time-codes, and with your descriptions. Make sure to note exactly what the participant was looking at (if you’re using eye-tracking) or what he hovered over, and what he said. Make sure your notes include task numbers and that if there is a good quote, you note a specific time code if you can’t get it written down.

If you are the only analyst working on the test and want to use shorthand that you understand, that’s fine. But if there is anyone else working with you, or even potentially working with you, it’s tremendously important you remember to take good notes.

The $300,000,000 Button

I’d love to be able to write a new engaging, interesting, exciting blog post for you every week. However, sometimes it’s better to let someone else do the heavy lifting. In this case, I’m providing you a link to a story that really piqued my interest in usability a few years ago. It shows how the tiniest thing can make a HUGE difference. This is a great article and worth not just reading but seriously thinking about.

The $300,000,000 Button


As Many as 87% of iPhone Owners Use SIRI at Least Once A Month – How Does This Affect Your Search Results?

SIRI and Google Now / Google Voice Search will affect the way consumers receive search information by filtering the content FOR you on your search. This is great news for consumers but creates more work for SEM / SEO professionals. It’s estimated that up to 87% of iPhone owners use SIRI at least once a month. Because Google Now is now a default widget on newer Android devices, and with the increasing availability of Voice Search on desktops, adoption of their technology is also bound to be pretty high. Most of the usage seems to be in three categories –

1. Making phone calls
2. Sending texts
3. Searching the web

Obviously, the third one is the most concerning to search professionals.

With a typical web search, you enter a query and are presented with a Search Engine Response Page (SERP) containing pages of organic links, along with the sponsored Pay Per Click (PPC) links. These results are driven by algorithms, key words, ad campaigns, traffic, and plenty of other elements, known and unknown. However, when you use a voice search, through SIRI or Google, you receive the BEST response – not a page of them – generated by cross-referencing several sources and leaving out the ads.

So does this mean your SEO and SEM efforts are futile? Hardly. This is still young technology and a vast majority of searches still use the more traditional means. but you do need to rethink your efforts to include additional avenues in your SEO and SEM. Here are four tips for making sure your information can be found, even using voice search:

1) Think Local – If you market to a local audience, make sure you have Yelp and Google Places listings. Monitor them, keep them up to date and add information to them as necessary.

2) Long Tail Keywords Are More Important Than Ever – Voice search uses Natural-Language-Processing (NLP) and as such, users can and will be much more specific in their search requests. Making sure you know the phrases that might be used to find you, and implementing those in your site and search tools will help ensure your information comes up.

3) Diversify Your Display Ads – Around the turn of the last century, John Wanamaker bemoaned “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. Trouble is, I don’t know which half.” While Google is still the big dog in the PPC / Display Ad world (estimates put as much as 95% of their profit in display advertising), these ads don’t show up in voice searches. This makes it more important to investigate other avenues, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. for display ads.

4) Actively Engage Your Customers to Increase Your Relevance – It’s not enough to just put the information out there. Collect email addresses from your customers and communicate with them regularly. Ask them to rate you on Yelp, find you on Google Places, Like you on Facebook, and follow you on Twitter (oh, and ask for their business, too). The online activity will improve your prominence and increase the likelihood that SIRI and Voice Search will find you.

Usability – It’s Not Just for Breakfast Any More

Usability is a word that’s been casually tossed around for 40 years. Like every other intangible product, there are a host of usability experts who, for a fee, will be happy to consult with you about your product, service or website to tell you how usable it is by your target customer. But how important is it to even worry about it? I mean, you’ve paid your designer to paint a pretty picture and you’ve paid your fabricators or programmers to build a product or website with all the proper functions, so it should be fine, right? Wrong.

For the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on websites (also because I’m not a specialist in industrial design so I’d really be speaking out of school). Quite possibly, the worst thing in the world that can be done with a website much more than one level deep is to turn over all the functionality realization to designers and developers. Why? Because designers care about good art and developers care about efficient code. Neither cares very much about the “average” user’s ability to actually carry out his or her desired tasks.

It’s important to know your audience, even your moderately potential audience. Know who they are and how they think and what they like to see. A famous riddle goes “how many designers does it take to change a light bulb?” and the answer is “Does it have to be a light bulb?” Well, in some cases, YES it DOES have to be a light bulb. But first, YOU have to know that it needs to be a light bulb. How do you know? Ask your audience. Conduct a usability test. It’s not that difficult; invite your next door neighbor to look at your website and ask his opinion on how easy or hard it is to perform a number of important tasks (find an item, make a purchase, contact customer support, etc.). Then make adjustments and ask your other next door neighbor. Hire a consultant if you need, but make sure you know her background. Have her give you a quick, heuristic review of your design or site before you hire her. You’ll know how good she is by the review and THEN you can pay her to do a deeper review and conduct more formal testing if you need it and if you have the budget.

My point is; usability testing is more important than ever – at least on the web. A cursory examination of your site by someone who isn’t intimately involved with its production is the only way to ensure that you’re building a site that people can and will use. There are some great books on the subject – Steve Krug wrote two that are easy reads and great references – “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” and “Don’t Make Me Think”. For a more in-depth resource on usability testing, read Joseph Dumas’ and Janice Redish’s “A Practical Guide To Usability Testing”. A quick Google search will uncover plenty of online resources. And of course, keep checking in here for tips and opinions – or drop us a line; we’d be happy to help.


Writing Content for Mobile

It’s no real revelation that mobile adoption is growing by leaps and bounds. In 2010, Google predicted that within 5 years, mobile internet usage would exceed desktop internet usage. In January this year, that very thing happened. For the first time, smartphone and tablet apps were used more than PCs to access the internet. All told, mobile devices made up 55% of internet traffic that month. (Source: CNN Money)

That’s all well and good, and completely expected, but what does it mean for your content? A quick internet search for “Writing for the web” will give anyone a whole host of good tips for writing web content. We all know the basics: brief chunks of data, bullet lists, bold key words and phrases, no long pages; but how will it differ if you’re writing for mobile instead of desktop? You can’t just compress your content – it needs further distillation and reconfiguration.

Why do you need to rethink the way you write your content to accommodate mobile? Well, according to research by the Nielsen Norman Group, the difficulty of reading and comprehending text on an iPhone-sized screen is more than twice as difficult as reading on a desktop screen. There are a number of reasons for this, including:

• Small screens with small text
• Slow download speeds
• Websites designed for larger screens being shrunken instead of reformatted
(Source: The Nielsen Norman Group)

If you’re a fan of the “Online It All Matters” blog, you will have read the “Get in the Game” white paper containing the 5 Best Practices to Improve Your Mobile Writing. These are great tips and should be heeded but there’s a fun, metaphorical way to help people understand the difference between writing for the web, and writing for the mobile web.

Think of good web writing as being like a meal at a good restaurant. It’s presented in an attractive and enticing way; the portion size isn’t overwhelming; you can easily identify what you’re eating; and when you’ve finished, you’re satisfied.

Following that simile, good mobile writing is like tapas, dim sum, or a tasting menu. The bites are delivered quickly and are small, but substantial enough to let you know if you want more; you can easily sample multiple items and go back for more if you want; they’re presented in a way that makes it easy to decide which ones you want to try – and which you should pass up; and if you find one you really like, you can order a full portion.

Whether you’re writing for the web, or the mobile web, be sure to keep your target user’s appetite in mind, measure your ingredients carefully, and stir often. Bon apetit!

The Content is Important

One of the first items that gets cut from many marketing or web development budgets is copywriting / content strategy. Many people think that because they know how to type, they have all the necessary qualifications to write copy for their ads and websites. And that’s why we so often hear “Call XYZ company, for all your <blank> needs.” The next time you listen to a local radio station, keep an ear out for that phrase – you’ll be amazed how much you hear it. Do you know who writes copy like that? Not copywriters.

To be sure, the first thing a viewer or website visitor will see is indeed NOT the copy, but the design. However, you can use all the pretty pictures in the world but if you don’t have a clear and well-written message, it won’t matter. Design can only engage your potential customer, it can’t convince him to buy. For that, you need a good strategy, and a good writer.

Copywriting is really part of a larger effort – content strategy. The prevailing notion seems to be that if you want a good website, you hire a good designer and she will be able to create the perfect website, as long as she has the right resources – high resolution images, layered art, brand colors, and the stakeholders’ ideas of what they like best. But the designer’s hands are tied without a good content strategy.

The content strategist is the person who will determine what the content needs to be, in what order it should be presented, in what voice it should be written, and how it should be laid out. Once he’s assessed the content, he’ll work with a copywriter (in many instances, they are one and the same) to prepare the copy for the website. This includes laying out a navigational scheme, perhaps drawing up rough wire frames, and creating a site outline.

A primary component of good content is efficiency. Efficiency of content doesn’t necessarily mean brevity, although that’s a worthy goal. Efficiency means presenting all the necessary content in a way that makes it easy for the right user to find it, understand it, and act on it. If that means a list of 10 bullet points, fantastic. If it means linking to a white paper with technical, detailed information, that’s fine too. The important part is presenting it in the way that your user needs it.

Once you’ve organized your content, and written your copy, you can finally hand it over to the designer to make it look nice. This is where the real collaboration starts. The content strategist, copywriter, designer, and programmers must all work together to ensure all the wish list items are feasible, and the outcomes are satisfactory. All of those players are necessary in order to avoid a hot mess.

Just because you can type doesn’t mean you should be writing copy, any more than you should be performing surgery because you know how to sew. Yes, you can do some of the mechanics, but without the intuition, training, experience, and talent; you’re just going to cause a septic death. So when you’re looking for areas to cut from the budget, consider carefully what you’ll be losing by cutting content strategy- this is the area ultimately responsible for the quality of your message.