This is the fourth part in my series about learning how to test the usability of your online donation form and website with real donors. Part one discussed why to usability test, part two outlined crafting your test, and part three gave best practices for recruiting participants. Today, we gear up for your big test day!

It’s test day… what now?
The running of your usability test can give you a few jitters if you’ve never done it but I’ll say it again. Usability testing is not complicated. Anyone can do it. Moreover, usability testing is an invaluable tool for improving your website design and increasing donation conversions. Running your test really only involves four aspects.

  1. Orientating your participants
  2. Giving testing tasks
  3. Observing participants drive your website (without helping)
  4. Wrapping up with exit questions

Now let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.

Orientating your test participants
When you first greet your participants, your first task is to just make them feel safe and comfortable. Sure, you are only watching them surf your website, but I’ve found this to be surprisingly nerve-racking to most people. I’ve seen test participants use salty language (yes, really) and even break into hard sweats (yes, really). Not because a website was especially difficult to use, but because someone was sitting behind them while they stumbled along.

So your first role in running your usability testing is to be the flight attendant. You need to get them calm and relaxed right off the bat. I do this by reading a welcome script like the one below which is a modified version of Steve Krug’s. I’ve used it for years and you are welcome to steal it!

I really appreciate you doing this today. We are trying to get feedback from real users as to how easy our website is to use. My name is ___________, and I’m going to watch you use the website today. It should take about _____ minutes.

The first thing I want to make clear right away is that we’re testing the website, not you. You can’t do anything wrong here. You also cannot hurt our feelings because we are just looking for honest reactions. We only want our website to be better.

As you use the site, I’m going to ask you  to think out loud as much as possible. Keep telling me what you’re thinking, what you’re looking at, and what you’re trying to do. This will be a big help to us. You really cannot talk too much.

I will keep as quiet as possible because I want you to use the website just as if you were alone at your home. If you have any questions as we go along, just ask them. If I cannot answer your questions during the test, I may say something like, “What would you do if I wasn’t here?” Then, I’ll note any questions you have so I can answer them at the end of the test drive.

Great. Now I’m going to ask you to try to complete some specific tasks on our website as best you can.

Giving your participants your testing  tasks
We touched on tasks in the previous designing your test post, but I will show my suggested testing tasks again below. I usually read them out loud and give the participant a printed copy.

You are considering whether you want to donate to our organization, but first you want to do some basic research about the organization before making a donation.

Task #1: First, you want to find out the purpose of the organization. Take as much time as you need researching the site and tell me what this organization does.

Task #2: Now, you are considering making a donation. You want to use the website to find out specifically how your donation will be used by this organization.

Task #3: You are ready to make a donation. Make a $10 donation to this organization using credit card number 4111 1111 1111 1111, expiration date 01/15, and CVV 456.

After covering the tasks:

Great, now we are ready to start. Please let me know when you are done with each task before you move onto the next one. Do you have any final questions?

Awesome. You can start whenever you are ready.

If you are doing quick-and-dirty Starbucks-style testing as discussed in Part 3, feel free to shorten your script as needed.

Observing your test participants during a test
When the participant begins working through the tasks, your role in the testing changes greatly. You are no longer the flight attendant. You are now the zoologist. 

Your goal is to observe without influencing which is the most important and tricky part of running your test. Tricky? Yup, because very soon you will see someone begin to flail in the water, but you cannot help them.

Keeping your mouth closed and watching someone struggle is often the hardest part of running a usability test.  But this is how you learn where your website design is working and where it could be improved for your real supporters.

Some tips for running your test

  • Don’t give hints
    Don’t tell them where the link is. Don’t explain your design. Don’t give hints unless they are completely stuck. Which leads to…
  • Throw them a rope only when stuck
    Once you have seen that a user cannot figure out how to find a page or hyperlink, you can give them a little guidance since there is nothing left to learn. Don’t tell them how to get past the problem, but just nudge with something like, “Can you look at the list of options in the top left and tell me if you find something which looks helpful?”
  • Keep them behind the wheel
    Early on, all test participants will ask, “What is X supposed to do?”. Again, usually a little nudge is all that needed like, “What would you expect it to do if I wasn’t here?”.
  • Sometimes a little encouragement is needed
    When you hear a comment like, “I’m so dumb… I cannot figure this out”, I usually give a little feedback to keep them relaxed and moving forward. Something like, “No, you are doing just fine. Please keep going because I’m learning a lot.”
  • If they stop narrating? 
    Simply ask, “What are you thinking right now?”
  • Dig deeper as needed
    After the participant gets into a flow, it is okay to tease out some details while they progress like:

    • Why did you do that?
    • What did you expect to find after going to that page?
    • When you say ‘I like this page’, tell me what that means.

Where should you sit during the test?
I usually sit just behind the participant on their right where I can take notes quietly and reach the mouse as needed while staying out of their line of sight.

Should you record the session?
Skeptics turn to believers on a dime when they watch individuals using the website directly. A recording of a testing session can be a powerful tool for influencing stakeholders. You can also use tools like WebEx or Join.me to share your desktop so stakeholders can watch the testing in progress.

If this is your first toe in the water of usability testing, simply snapping a couple of photos discretely with your iPhone can convey, “This is real testing with real users”. Just be sure to get permission from participants first!

Debriefing your participant
After all of your testing tasks are finished, you can address unanswered questions or unpack something you observed (e.g., “I noticed you kept returning to the home page… tell me why”). Here’s a great wrap-up question I often ask after testing:

I would like you to rate the website from a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being worst imaginable and 10 being best imaginable.

Great, now tell me 3 things which would have improved your rating by one point.

This question is fabulous because it essentially gives the participant permissions to be honest about your design without feeling rude. Another variation is: “Tell me 3 things you liked about the website and 3 things which could be improved”.

From here, you can just thank them, give them a gift card if doing incentives, and say good-bye.

What’s next?
At this point in the series, you’ve knocked out your testing and you’ve collected some great data! Be excited, take a breather, pat yourself on the back!

If your stakeholders saw the testing first hand, you may be done. If not, you need to make the test results meaningful to your organization and maybe even make the pitch for additional resources. We’ll discuss how!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brandon Granger curates @Design_for_Good and is a Senior Interaction Designer at Blackbaud for Luminate Online, Online Express, MobilePay, and other products. Brandon has been crafting user experiences for the web and mobile apps for nonprofits for 15+ years. He has a passion for user research, usability testing, high-fidelity prototyping, responsive design, mobile design, and web accessibility. Brandon graduated from the University of North Texas with an undergraduate degree in Film Studies. You can follow him at @bkgranger.

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