Professional web site designers often use a technique called usability testing to evaluate their work. Multiple books have been authored on the subject, and there are many approaches, but all involve structured observation—watching people actually try to use the web sites in question, seeing what happens, and revising accordingly. Here’s a very brief adaptation of this for our purposes:
- Develop a short list of three or four tasks you would like the users of your site (your audience) to be able to perform. What information should they be able to find and read, for example?
- Work with at least two partners,
- Perform a series of trials approaching each task:
- One person should attempt to perform the task, speaking out loud as they do so — this is called think aloud protocol. “Okay, I’m supposed to find the examples which discuss group meetings. I’m going to use search. So, I’m looking for the search box…”
- The site designer should help the person performing the task if necessary, gently prompting when necessary, and periodically reminding the test-user to keep thinking out loud—but otherwise trying to stay out of the way.
- Person #3 should take notes. What can the test site user do successfully? Where do trouble spots occur? What things does the test-user say which are interesting?
- If the test-user gets completely stuck on a task, ask me or someone from another group to perform the task as well. If two people have an issue, that points to the need for some rethinking.
- Rotate among yourselves so that everyone gets some feedback about their sites in the time allotted. Make sure to end testing with enough time to review the notes from your tests and create a list of revisions to follow.