Andrew Chan, Information Architect, Mass.gov, Information Technology Division
Websites should always strive to provide valuable information to their visitors. This is particularly true for government websites, which are often the main source of information about state operations and services. Providing good, quality content for your customers is essential. Ensuring they can find it, however, is equally important.
Customers should not have to spend their time wondering which link will help them find their content. The path to the Holy Grail (the information they seek) should be intuitive and relatively pain-free. To confirm that the information on Mass.Gov is organized in a sensible way, we periodically conduct usability testing with different types of visitors to our site.
What is usability testing?
According to usability.gov, (the primary government source for information on usability and user-centered web design), usability testing measures the quality of a user’s experience when interacting with a website. You’ve probably gone to a poorly organized website before. It’s safe to say that it’s no fun. After a bad experience, you probably avoid returning to that website because you know it will be difficult to find the information you need.
The feedback you receive from usability testing will help you make objective decisions about your website based on verifiable evidence. It will help ensure that your customers do not encounter stumbling blocks on your website.
Why is it important?
Government websites don’t serve niche audiences. Our customers include anyone who may have a stake in the information and services we provide such as residents, tourists, business owners, researchers, municipal governments and more. Therefore, it is necessary to provide information that is accurate, timely, useful and, most importantly, easy to find.
What kind of usability testing is right for me?
There are many ways to conduct usability testing. These methods vary based on your goals and how much time and money you have to spend. In the Mass.Gov office, we conduct rapid paper-prototype testing that is easy, cheap and (dare we say it?) FUN.
How do you do it?
Regardless of the type of usability testing you perform, it should consist of three phases: planning the test, conducting the test, and analyzing the results. We will go into more detail about each of these phases in our next post, but we’ve compiled some sample documentation that can be found in the usability testing area of our ITD website that may be helpful to you.
Anyone can do it
We hope we provided you with a good introduction to usability testing. The process of usability testing may seem daunting, but in actuality it is easy to set up, to conduct, and to report on. In the end, testing will help you make integral improvements to your website.
Usability testing will vary from site to site and from agency to agency. What works for some might not work for others. But, that’s what makes the process both interesting and mission critical. If anyone has any feedback on our testing methods, or would like to share some personal usability testing stories, please feel free to leave a comment. Make sure to keep an eye out for our next post with testing strategies which will be coming soon. Thanks!