September 24th, 2012

The Importance of Testing and Second Opinions

As creative types, we like to think that we have all the answers to the problems presented to us – the right way to navigate a page, the right place to put the copy in an ad, the right way to make a call to action stand out. We pride ourselves on pushing the limits on creativity and standards to make something beautiful. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Except when there is.

Problems arise when we release our beautiful creation to the wild, only to find out that end users don’t know how to work the navigation, don’t read the print copy, or can’t readily find the call to action. How do we solve for this?

Turns out, it’s pretty simple. And it isn’t some brand new way of solving a problem. It’s pretty much as old as spoken language – ask somebody else.

In the office, we do that by posting things on walls. Outside the kitchen, we’ll put up four different versions of a print ad taped to a whiteboard (with different headlines or copy locations), put a dry erase marker next to it, and have people put a little tick next to the one they prefer or that makes them stop and read the full thing. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s a whole bunch of opinions on something that possibly only one or two people have been so focused on. They can take a step back, breathe, and see how their creation actually interacts in the real world. From there, they may realize that the perfect text placement is somewhere different than they thought or that their super-clever headline is just a bit too clever for most people to catch at a glance.

Testing is a little bit tougher – where should the navigation go? Which call to action provokes a better response? Finding out the answers to these questions is a little bit tougher than just taping things to a whiteboard. This is where “A/B testing” comes into play; Grab a bunch of people, present two different groups with two different options (A: button here, B: button there), and see which one works out better or is more understandable for the average user. With a large enough focus group and clearly different options (i.e. not a simple font size change, but a pronounced difference), it should be pretty evident which direction to go in if you want users to interact with your creation.

At DMI, we’ve started incorporating A/B testing into our creative process from almost the very beginning – as soon as we have something that we’re able to test (working concepts, wireframes, early designs), we bring them to a group and test them. This helps inform both us and the client of what direction to move in – on a standard web design, a crazy, non-intuitive navigation system probably isn’t best; for a mobile application, following iOS or Android standards for navigation and interaction helps users immediately immerse themselves in the process without requiring a lengthy tutorial or help system.

A/B testing can also help drive other decisions like login vs. unique login or native application vs. mobile web application. Even button sizing for best user interaction can be quickly sorted out simply by getting a working mockup into the hands of users and letting them play with it. Answering these questions upfront will avoid headaches and heartbreaks down the line – the creative no longer has to change his or her creation and the client is secure in knowing that everything will work according to their plan and long-term goals.

The best part about A/B testing, especially for websites and developers? You don’t even have to pay a fancy focus group to do it. If you have Google Analytics incorporated in your site, you can quickly set up two or more pages with differing layouts, button placement, or whatever you like, then see which one performs best towards your particular goal. Easy as pie.

Being able to step back from the work and evaluate how actual users will interact with the fruits of your labor is an important step in any creative process. Whether that’s passing something around the office or handing it off to a group of users, the feedback should help guide you down the road to success.

Kyle is a Designer at DMI. He’s sarcastic. He sings in the car. He’s a font nerd. He organizes his closet by color. He’s been to the emergency room in every place he’s ever lived. (And he writes about music sometimes.)

Tags: App development insights testing web development

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