Interview for Usability Testing, The Basics and Beyond
"Usability Testing, The Basics and Beyond" interview with Douglas Ward
Michael Smith: This time we are talking with Douglas Ward about his CFUNITED-05
talk "Usability Testing, The Basics and Beyond". So why should a developer come
to your session Douglas?
Douglas Ward: Because the payoff of learning how to effectively conduct
usability tests is tremendous. Too many web sites are frustrating - they don't
work as expected, they are hard to figure out, and they leave you feeling
aggravated. Those rare sites that are easy to use, that make obvious sense, and
quickly solve problems are memorable. If you can deliver those kinds of web
sites, you will be highly valued in the marketplace.
MS: Is there any payoff for the website owner?
DW: Absolutely. If you are a website owner, you want the most effective site
possible, be it a site that sells something, a site that provides information,
or a site that provides some sort of service. With all of these kinds of sites,
there are certain metrics that can be used to determine just how effective the
site is. One aspect of usability testing includes establishing these metrics and
systematically evaluating what those metrics indicate.
MS: Why are these kinds of metrics important?
DW: Well, because without them you really have no idea whether your website is
any good - you're really just shooting in the dark. I think of usability testing
as analogous to unit testing. You don't really know if the code you write is any
good unless you correctly unit test it. And you don't really know if your site
is any good unless you correctly usability test it.
MS: So what kind of things cause poor usability?
DW: Well, the primary cause of poor usability is that developers don't account
for, or even understand, usability. Fundamentally, developers need to understand
that web sites are INTERACTIVE. A web site is something that users manipulate in
certain ways to accomplish certain goals. You could say a web site is like a TV
remote control. The remote control helps you accomplish your goal - which is
finding the show you want to watch. Or, conversely, the remote control is so
confusing that it actually impedes the accomplishment of your goal, and you just
turn the dang TV off. A web site is a tool that helps users find content, or buy
tennis balls, or reserve movie tickets. Or the web site is so confusing that
they try a different site.
MS: What kind of improvements have you seen after a site is made usable?
DW: One immediate improvement is that users are more likely to stay on a web
site and browse. A lot of time is spent by developers trying to figure out how
to get all of the most important information they want to communicate up front
and immediately apparent to a user. But that is usually impossible and often
leads to cluttered front pages that communicate nothing because they communicate
everything. A better approach is to develop an interactive web site that users
immediately understand how to use. If they can navigate your site without
getting lost, if the controls are intuitive, and you don't throw them lots of
curve balls, they'll stay and poke around. If you don't do that, they'll leave
your site in the click of a mouse.
MS: Can you give an example?
DW: I find examples every day. I recently moved and had to choose between
various cable companies. I was going to go with one company till I started the
online ordering process. Within a couple of minutes my head was almost ready to
pop off I was so confused. I ended up with cable from a different company.
MS: So usability is a competitive advantage for a business owner?
DW: Absolutely. Here's a good analogy. I worked at a restaurant in Los Angeles
for about two years. During the entire time I worked there, there wasn't one
night that the restaurant wasn't completely packed. The reason was that the
owner had caught on to a very simple idea. In going to other restaurants in the
city, he realized that the vast majority of restaurants provide terrible
service. He thought, "Well, all I have to do is deliver service that is 5%
better than the average restaurant in town and I'll stick out like a sore
thumb." That simple idea resulted in his restaurant being full for the two years
straight that I worked there.
If you are a web site owner, there is a similar opportunity for you. Most web
sites are not user friendly, are not intuitive, are not designed with usability
in mind. If you incorporate usability design and testing in the development of
your site, your site will be easier to use, more intuitive, and you'll end up
with higher site traffic, greater conversion rates, higher sales, and more
MS: So will you show us how to do a useablity test on our own sites at your
DW: Yes. I want those who come to my presentation to walk out with specific
ideas and tools that they can begin implementing right away. I know you,
Michael, have focused a lot this year on providing the attendees of CFUNITED
with valuable, real world knowledge.That is my goal, as well. Usability and
usability testing can make a great impact on the quality of the sites being
built. Come to my presentation and I'll show you how to do it!
MS: ok, I am looking forward to seeing you at CFUNITED