There are times we are asked to test websites just after launch in order to “validate“ the design.
While we are happy to oblige, it always makes us sad we were not brought in earlier in the design process. Leaving testing until the very end can have two serious consequences:
It costs more: Testing with users always highlights issues. In 20 years of testing, on hundreds of sites, we have never come across one without a single usability issue. When these issues are unearthed post-launch the design and development costs are often more and on top what has already been spent. Nielsen estimates it is “100 times cheaper to make a change before any code has been written than if the same change has to be made after that code has been completed”
It affects brand reputation: in the short term, a new site with issues may stop users achieving their goals, cause them to leave early and not revisit the site; in the longer term this will affect users’ perceptions of the brand. Even once you rectify any issues, you may not win back your users as they must now relearn how to use the site and leading to feelings of lack of consistency and coherency in the site.
Avoiding testing throughout the development process will cause you to build up UX debt. As explained by the Nielson Norman Group:
“Continually prioritizing fast and easy solutions may help us hit release dates in the short term, but over time, repeatedly choosing shortcuts will leave us with mounting experience issues that adversely impact our users.”
We recommend testing as early as possible in the development cycle - it will save time, money and angst in the long run.
What can be tested early?
Just about anything can be tested and any early stage testing will help inform and improve the finished website. It’s quick, easy and cheap to set up – you only need a small number of testers - so really there are no excuses!
Wireframes and prototypes are the best way to put you designs in front of real users before expensive design and development work has taken place. These can range from drawings on paper to PowerPoint slides to Axure wireframes to partially designed, clickable prototypes. (Read more about different types of prototypes)
Testing can encompass a full user journey on a site or it may focus on specific elements of a user journey (e.g. a specific form or the check out process).
What are the benefits of early testing?
The benefits of testing early with users are many and varied. The top two are:
- It saves time and money across the life of a project: early stage changes can be incorporated quickly before lots of expensive design and coding time has been invested
- It results in an overall improved user experience, both usability and content meeting the users' needs - which will improve user satisfaction on all sites and conversion rates on transactional sites
Specifically, testing early allows you to:
- See 'real' users interact with a prototype, challenging tacit mental models about how the world works and the assumptions underpinning design choices
- Surface user requirements that have not previously been identified, and so inform more generally about what users want
- Get feedback on a 'macro' strategic scale (do users understand the concept) and a more 'micro' tactical scale (focusing on specific elements of the interface)
- Surface issues outside the user interface e.g. around organisation branding and credibility, other offline requirements, that will enable the overall online and offline user experience to be improved
- Prioritise your developments by surfacing what's most important to users and identifying where development effort should be concentrated
- Align client and development teams to help ensure that their understanding of the user goals are aligned, and that they have a clearer joint picture of what 'success' of the finished site will be.
Importantly, during the earlier stages of a project, members of the development team will be less attached to design ideas and, therefore, less defensive about making changes; this minimises what is known as 'invested effort' and makes it easier for the team to revise the design.
Because of this, early testing can promote creativity because the team is not tied to one solution, leading to the development of alternative solutions which can be tested side-by-side to identify what works best for users.