Lessons Learned from User Testing | npENGAGE

Lessons Learned from User Testing

By on Jun 24, 2008


As a user experience professional, I’ve worked on small, medium and large projects. I’ve learned that the smaller the budget and timeline, the harder it is to include user testing in the project. Ideally, in every project I’d love the opportunity to sit down with some users and watch how they interact with the site since, in my opinion, this is the best way to really understand how to meet their needs. Alas, I often have to skip over this step and in these situations, I’ve always relied heavily on my industry experience and expertise to provide recommendations on usability best practices – I’m an expert, right? Lately, in the context of user testing, I’ve learned some things that have made me re-think my standard set of “best practices” which has really allowed me to understand (and now evangelize) the importance of user testing.

Here’s an example – in the past when I’ve helped clients re-evaluate their sitemaps and navigation, I’ve always considered it a standard and widely acceptable practice to exclude “Home” from the navigation bar and assume that users will know to click on the web site logo to return to the homepage. Here are some sites you may recognize that follow this standard:

In a recent user test on a site set up in this exact way, more than half of the participants struggled to locate the homepage once they had browsed around the site. One user clicked the Back button six times until they landed there! Now, I’ve really slapped myself in the knee and realize that we just need to spell it out every time.

Not only does this demonstrate the importance of user testing when you’re implementing a new site or redesigning, but it also goes to show how we can continually build upon and re-think our bank of best practices knowledge as we go through the user testing process. Can you think of any other examples of how you’ve re-thought what you originally considered a standard or best practice? Please share in the comments if so. 


Lacey Kruger, principal information architect for Blackbaud, designs online properties for nonprofits that delight and inspire. Whether a full scale website, a campaign site or a peer to peer fundraising site, Lacey guides clients through a research-based and user-centered approach to design. In her 15+ years at Blackbaud, she has developed a deep understanding of nonprofit web presences. That knowledge, along with her years of experience in information design, have established her as an industry expert.

Lacey has written a Blackbaud eBook, “A Guide to the Nonprofit Web Design Process” and her article, “Designing Nonprofit Experiences: Building a UX Toolkit” was published in User Experience magazine. She has presented at industry conferences including bbcon, IA Summit and BIG Design.

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