Monday, July 6, 2009

Usability, Where for art thou, usability?

Ah, sweet usability research/design/architecture/whatever... it's like an unrequited love. It's always just a bit out of reach and, being there, remains unsullied by the day-to-day messiness of living together.

Usability testing is something that web people know we should do more often... well... every time but somehow never get around to it. Even if there is an opportunity to do a little testing (or to just apply insights learned from reading about some testing on someone else's site), we rarely get to act on it because we haven't the opportunity at that particular time to make significant site-wide changes. The problem might be a lack of money to apply a change that would make a site more usable, but it's most likely time. Your to-do list never seems to shrink and so you tack your golden nugget of an idea up on the bulletin board on top of the ten other great ideas that you'll likely never get around to.

It's an amazing stupid reason to not improve a web site. You know that and I know that... but it can't be helped. Real life keeps getting in the way. The days pass and you watch your golden nuggets get more dated and irrelevant.

What could you and your site have accomplished if only you could get your head above the daily noise and try out some new theories?

Here's one idea.

The next time you get the chance -- when you are sitting down for a yearly strategic planning session or the next time your site is getting complete overhauled with a new platform or design -- make a suggestion. Why not just plan for a twice-a-year review of the site. Pick two or three items from you and your team's list of golden nuggets. Any more than that and you won't actually finish anything. Plan for a couple of weeks (around the winter and summer holidays) of
  • assessing test results from any formal or informal testing,
  • reviewing your site stats, and
  • quickly implementing some site-wide changes.
Keep it web team focused because you'll be indulging in some seriously geeky stuff. Try to keep any stakeholders who aren't directly connected to your changes out of the meeting. Make it a party. Bring in M&Ms. You'll need them. This will be rapid development at its best.

By actually planning for small, strategic changes more often, you might be able to push off the inevitable, soul-sucking redesign/replatforms that tend to come very 12-24 months. If you are smart about measuring your efforts, then you can also make smarter choices about design and technology when it really is time to redesign and replatform the site.

Tomorrow, Part 2: What could go wrong?

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