Software QA FYI - SQAFYI

User Testing. How to find out what users want

By: Jennifer Fleming

There are no stock answers when it comes to web design. Two developers faced with the same problem will approach it in two very different ways. Two web consultants will give you two different (though equally expensive) opinions. So how can you really tell if your site is working?

The answer lies with your site's users. The most successful web sites are those that not only respond to user feedback, but actively seek it out. These sites understand that the most valuable resource a developer possesses is not a software tool or piece of equipment. It's an opinionated audience.

Why should you test? As a developer, you probably know your site's territory like the back of your hand. And you should -- you built it, after all. But the same expertise that makes you an asset to a web project can also be a drawback when it comes to usability. Think of what it's like to use someone else's computer, drive their car, or stay at their house. They know exactly how things work and where to find things. You, on the other hand, don't.

Regardless of how web savvy you are, if you create an environment, you'll suffer from what designer Richard Saul Wurman calls the "disease of familiarity." Don't beat yourself up over problems -- you've probably done your best with what you know about the audience. Instead, get a fresh perspective. The best way to do this is to talk with your site's users. This article will help you get started.

When shouldn't you test? Testing can be useful during initial development, before a redesign, or as a periodic checkup. But there is one time when you shouldn't test. If you are unwilling (for political or other reasons) to make needed changes based on testing results, there is no reason to waste your users' time or raise their expectations. Test if you are serious about listening to users. Don't test if you're simply looking for validation.

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User Testing. How to find out what users want