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Economical Usability Testing

Usability testing is often overlooked to the peril of both the developer and the consumer. I was convicted reading Steve Krug’s book on usability to go ahead with testing even if it’s small and cheap. In doing this for the recent design of this site I wanted to share how I did usability testing for all of $60.

Feedback Form

The first thing I did was create a form in Wufoo, a powerful form building application, to receive feedback. I made it simple and short (I had to keep it to 10 fields in the free version). I made an announcement on my personal blog offering a small gift certificate to Amazon for the most in-depth results. I got so many good ones that I decided to give out 4 $10 gift certificates instead of the two I mentioned in the blog post. I got some great feedback from age groups varying from teenager to baby-boomer, male and female, and different income families. I even had a scale from very technical to a casual user of the Internet. Here are some of the comments I received (a sample of the results).

What is your impression of the home page, and where do you want to go first?

  • “It’s bright and I am having some trouble with the lack of contrast…”
  • “The home page makes a strong impression. The design itself is simple, but effective.”
  • “I went first to services to see if you could back up the claims in the home page text, then to portfolio to check out your abilities.”
  • “It’s very green. Probably too green. In the least I would reverse the greens…”

Is the text easy to read?

  • “Too small….I like bigger type and bolder.”
  • “The white text in the menu with the dark green background is difficult to read.”
  • “Change the text size in the browser window, and it skews things…”

Final Comments

  • “The terminology is confusing because I am an accountant and not a web programmer.”
  • “When searching, I wasn’t sure if it would search page content and articles, or only articles.”
  • “Possibly adding a snippet of the page in the search results (rather than just a link to the page) would make it more helpful.”
  • “I don’t like how when I’m looking at more pages of articles, I’m still at the home page. It seems like when I click on “Next” it should open up to something bigger.”

Video Taped Usability Session

I also paid $20 to have someone sit down and answer questions related to the site. It came from a site called User I appreciated the results, and I thought I would share the results with you. You can also gauge the differences between the old and new versions.

Instead of embedding the media, please view the usability test results in a new window.

Changes MadeĀ 

It doesn’t mean much unless I actually make changes as a result of this effort. Here are some changes I made in response.

  • Removed the pagination on the front page to take the user to an archives page.
  • Swapped the greens to make the softer one more prominent.
  • Add excerpts to the search/archives page to describe article content.
  • Made clear on the search page what was actually search (both articles and pages).
  • Explained what the “*” meant on the contact page (which I mistakenly thought was not needed).
  • Changed the overflow on the main page to scroll when text size was increased so as to not throw off the layout.
  • Changed the terminology from “Goodies” to “Downloads”.
  • Changed the color on input forms from a light gray to black for more contrast.
  • Removed confusing “blog categories” drop down from pages.
  • Removed technical jargon from the “Services” page, and trimmed the “About” page (and I still need to do more).


After going through this process I was grateful for the feedback I received, and I’m happy with the changes I made. I didn’t have to make every suggested change, and I filtered that by whether I felt the user fit into the demographic of people who would visit my site.

It is gratifying to make an appliacation this is usable, and it’s much easier to receive the constructive criticism from real users and not an executive telling me what my users want. I would highly suggest that a similar approach be taken early and often in the development to ensure that your users are satisfied with their experience.

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