Diane Higgins Design

Not business as usual, but here’s one easy thing you can do for your start-up while working from home, in these extra-ordinary times.

OK, so it’s far from business as usual this week. This is not one of those business articles that completely ignore the fact that things are different right now. Also it’s not a doomsday anxiety inducing article. I’m hoping to land somewhere right in the present. I have been thinking about all of the start-ups out there and how things will have already changed drastically, how many are now working from home, or not working, or perhaps depending on what your business is you could be working more than ever.

Your company website may have really come in to its own over the last few days or weeks, communicating important information to customers about what your opening hours or contact options are during the crisis, or perhaps you have switched to providing more of your services online in order to maintain service levels.

So if your website has a new function to perform, or if you are just at home with cabin fever, now might be the perfect time to do a quick but effective usability test on your business.

In the world of web design, usability, UX, CX, UI, and lots of other related terms are floating around the air. Sometimes it can feel like being the guy on the bus who didn’t know what a ‘Tracker’ mortgage was when you are surrounded with industry jargon. I actually do know what a ‘tracker’ mortgage is, but that’s beside the point.

So what is Usability?

In 2001, at the ripe age of 18, (no need to do the Math- I just turned 37 last week), I spent my Summers from college working in what I still think was one of the best jobs in the world. I was a stewardess on board Irish Ferries going from Rosslare to Pembroke. What has this got to do with usability I hear you ask. OK, well here is a very good video by artist Michael Fortune in 2010 (9 years later) showing the frustrations I felt every Wednesday on trip on day when parking my car at the Terminal building in Rosslare harbour.


Video source Michael Fortune on YouTube, 2010

This video shows a real life example of poor usability. The users of the terminal were certainly not doing what the designers had intended (unless they had a pretty sick sense of humour). Bearing in mind that many of the people using such a road were tourists, this makes the poor design an even bigger issue.

How to conduct a usability test

In essence, this video is again a real world demonstration of a usability test. In order to show the issues the users were having, the videographer got real users to use the road and watched what they did. (In this case, they just watched actual users from a comfy spot on the hill).

So how do I apply this to my website?

Get people (ideally part of your target audience) to use your site in front of you and watch what they do. I recently used this very simple method of usability testing as part of my Masters in Digital Marketing, and the results amazed me. Much of what I am writing here is what I have learned in the very short number of days I had to do the testing, and knowledge I gained from our fantastic lecturer Z (Yes, that’s what we call him- I know it’s very Pulp Fiction, but actually it just works somehow)


So, you may currently holed up with your nearest and dearest, maybe not exactly your target market, but that’s where ‘personas’ comes in, or using technology like Zoom to do it remotely.

You may have come across this before in your business, but if not the idea is that you think about your target audience and make up a pretend person who represents a typical member of it. For example, you may have one persona who is Ciara aged 35, she loves the great outdoors and being fit. She is getting married next July in a beachside resort. etc. etc. Then you can ask someone to pretend to be Ciara or one of your other customers and use your website.

Designing the test

As with any affliction, admitting you have a problem is the first step.

First you decide what you want them to do, or where you think there might be an issue that needs to be resolved. Then we go about seeing what the users think. According to Anton Sten, UX Lead in an article by Maze (full article at https://blog.maze.design/value-user-testing-designers/), “A solution doesn’t validate the existence of a problem”. Essentially this means that what you may think is a problem for your users is not actually a problem at all. This according to Z, is a valid finding. Also, you may not know where to start. In this case, you could just get them to perform the main tasks that you want users to do when they come to your website, for example they want to buy a new printer for college. Compare your website’s offerings with a competitor and stop the task when they have made a decision.

In order to complete the test, you will need to ask the users to perform a task on the website either as themselves or as the persona. This question should be open enough to allow the users to behave in a natural way, without your prejudice of what you think the issue is getting in the way. It does need to be specific enough to ensure that you get the results. People may start on your website or they may start on google, they might go to another website half way through. For my recent test I felt there was a major issue in the special offers section of a well known e-commerce site, but I asked them to complete their weekly shop in my store, bearing in mind the special offers. As it turned out, the special offers issue I detected was just symptomatic of much more fundamental issues that were across the website such as the navigation being confusing.

Conducting the test

Once you have designed the test, the next step is to get your users to conduct it while you observe taking notes. The key point here is to do something that I find difficult at the best of times- shut up!!

So give them the task and tell them you can’t answer any questions, and just to work away as they would if you weren’t there, while talking aloud about what they see what they are doing and their entire thought process. For example: “I am typing printers into the search bar. Ok I don’t want any of these ones. I want a wi-fi enabled one. What does this button do?” You write all of this down and say nothing even if they ask you a question. Do this for 20 minutes with 3-5 people, and then see what they said.

The results

Have a look at what they said and go through what emerged as the main issues. Then you prioritise these findings into what you think are the main priorities and the lesser priorities. You can do this in whatever way you want, but it might depend on how easy the issue is to resolve, how major the issue is or how it prevents the user from completing an important task you want them to be able to do easily, such as make a purchase or find your phone number.

As Brian in my Digital Marketing class said “It will do, won’t do!”

Now what if you have just spent a small (or big) fortune on designing and developing your website and are just about to launch? Surely bad news at this stage in terms of usability is not worth the effort. Many of the usability issues you will find are small issues, with simple fixes that can be done in as many clicks by you or your designer as your user may have to do to work around the problem each time. Even if you don’t sort them, knowing they are there may give you useful insight when you are viewing your often difficult to analyse Google Analytics reports.

Now back to Rosslare Harbour, and they fixed their usability issue. Simples!

Video Source JP Rothery, YouTube 2016