What’s so important about usability testing?

Associations and nonprofits often overlook or skip usability testing when implementing a new CRM or AMS, website, or community because they don’t realize what an enormous impact it has on a project’s success. Or they do but they don’t want to spend any time or money on it. When the User Experience (UX) consultant hears that, they get the same face as someone who doesn’t get their promised slice of birthday cake. 

If only everyone knew how usability testing actually saves time, money, and stress headaches, no one would ever skip it. Usability testing helps your technology team better understand how users will ultimately interact with your new system or platform. This insight helps developers identify potential problems and make improvements in design, functions, and features. As a result, user adoption is high because the system meets everyone’s needs and expectations.

How usability testing benefits your organization and your larger audience

Can you get away with not doing usability testing? You might be tempted to skip it because your technology partner has a stellar reputation or because other organizations use the same CRM or have websites designed by the same firm. Resist the temptation; make plans to do usability testing. 

Every nonprofit or association has unique business goals. Your technology partners design and configure systems and sites with your unique requirements, processes, and users in mind. When you’re dedicating substantial resources to technology, it’s well worth protecting the ultimate success of that investment by doing usability testing. It’s the only way to ensure that the user experience will meet your expectations and everyone else’s expectations—staff, members, volunteer leaders, customers, donors, and/or website visitors.

Let’s talk about staff

Technology can quickly ruin an employee’s day if it doesn’t perform as expected. On the backend, a system must be easy to understand and navigate. Usability testing eliminates issues with daily tasks such as viewing, editing, and entering data, pulling reports, adding and updating content, and running automated processes. You don’t want a system or site to slow staff down or take their focus away from work. When developers see how employees use the system, they can make changes that alleviate the need for workarounds or complaints. As a result, employees are quicker to adopt the system and realize the advantages of the new technology.

Members, customers, and visitors have expectations too

Users on the public-facing side also need a system that is easy for them to understand. They’re not in it every day like staff. They want to quickly accomplish what they came for: login, navigation, search, purchase, registration, and discussion forum participation. Usability testing uncovers their vastly different needs. It prevents confusion, frustration, and the need to contact staff for help. Usability testing allows you to offer an online experience that matches what external users expect based on their experience with other websites and apps.

And what about you, the leaders and project managers?

Usability testing solves a perennial project challenge: the disconnect between how staff expresses what they need and how developers interpret their words. With usability testing, you can fix misunderstandings and improve the product so the system meets the needs and expectations of staff.

When done early enough, usability testing reduces development time and costs, putting smiles on the project manager and CFO’s faces. You don’t have to dedicate as much time to training because the system is more intuitive thanks to the feedback from testing sessions. You’ll have fewer support issues too since many issues have already been identified and ironed out.

Staff buy-in and user adoption increase. The word gets out that the system or site is performing as or better than expected. Staff can immediately leverage data and system workflows, like automated marketing campaigns. Members log in and engage more frequently.

What’s involved in usability testing 

Now that we’ve convinced you of the indispensability of usability testing, you’re probably wondering how it works. Testing sessions happen early in the design process—as soon as you have a product with the desired functionality, aka a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It’s best to find out early if your software or site is heading in the right direction and on its way to meeting business goals. By testing early, you can make adjustments right away so time (money) is not wasted. Testing continues throughout the development process, whenever a user-facing function or feature is ready to be tested and possibly tweaked.

Here’s how usability testing works. The UX consultant puts together a testing script and a list of tasks for the user to perform. The user who tests the system is a potential or actual user of the system or site. In a moderated usability testing session, usually held on Zoom, the UX consultant is the facilitator who asks the user to perform tasks while another consultant takes notes on what’s going on. For example, depending on the user’s role, the consultant might ask them to:

  • Find the X button.
  • Create a new record.
  • Make a donation.
  • Find someone’s last donation.
  • Use the search function.

The facilitator observes the user’s behavior, including where they get hung up or how easily and quickly they accomplish a task, listens for feedback, and asks questions to better understand their behavior and thought process. The session takes about 45 minutes.  

Another option is unmoderated sessions, which is often a less ideal approach. Instead of a consultant, a tool runs the test and records video and audio of the user. Unmoderated sessions allow you to run more tests because you don’t have to schedule a facilitator, but facilitators don’t have a chance to ask follow-up questions. The user has no one to turn to if they get frustrated or confused. Plus, you end up paying for the same amount of consultant hours because they still have to set up the tool, load the script, test the test, and watch the recordings.

The usability testing standard is having five testing participants representing each unique user type. User type examples include membership team super users, accounting team users, data users from business departments, donors, website visitors, and volunteer leaders. The cost of usability testing is based on the number of user tests, so the more user types you have, the more tests. For best results, test the system with users representing a range of technical abilities and potential needs.

After the testing sessions, the UX consultant produces a report summarizing the results along with recommendations for improving the user experience and meeting business goals.

Usability testing results in technology that doesn’t stand in the way of progress. Instead, your technology investment does what it’s supposed to do to make work easier and help your organization and stakeholders achieve their goals. 

Find out what your members and stakeholders really need by using a value-based digital strategy that unlocks more value for them and your organization. Fíonta’s on-demand webinar, Value-Based Digital Strategy: How Research, Measurement, and Experimentation Unlocks Impact, explains the basics of the value-based approach to the online experience.