Usability Testing: Why Great Design is Only Half the Battle

People of all ages pay money to see the beauty of the Mona Lisa and the majesty of Michelangelo’s breathtaking Sistine Chapel. Artistic design is meant to be appreciated and adored because it evokes an emotion from viewers that is often unprecedented.

Great web designers understand this dynamic of artistic expression and many take pride in their work. They transform a blank white space into something beautiful and tangible so clients can gawk and visitors can boast.

Unfortunately, beautiful design is only half the equation when it comes to website marketing. A spectacular design will attract visitors to a website and keep them there, but without a strategy for creating an easy user experience that leads visitors to take a desired action, business growth is unlikely.

If you want your visitors to take action on your website, you must consider usability and conversion strategies.

The End Goal

What is the end goal of your website design?

If your website is meant to be a spectacular portfolio solely for showcase, focus on design only.

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But, here is the problem…
Most website owners seek profits. Yes, they want their websites to look professional and sleek, but if they are not making money or building their business in some way, not even an award-winning design will help them.

Are your visitors clicking the “buy” button?
Are they opting in to the email list?
Are they contacting you for services?

If visitors are busy admiring a website design or are confused by too many elements, they may not be thinking about taking an action. If they are distracted, their mind is not focused on where it should be – the sale.

Examples

Below are two stellar website designs. Both are businesses that desire users to contact them for service requests. Their sites contain creative, eye-catching, interactive design elements. But do you think these businesses enjoy high conversions? Are visitors led to take action right away or are they confused?

1. Synapse

This website belongs to Synapse, a web branding agency. When you hover over each block on the website, the images come alive and showcase some of their branding campaigns. Scroll down the screen by moving the site with your mouse. It is very interactive and creative.

The Problem…

When you land on the site, do you know what type of business it is? Is it a newspaper magazine? A photographer’s portfolio?

If visitors do not discover who you are in four seconds or less, you will lose them.

There is no contact information evident; no logo; no description of the company. Users must search around the site to find information and click on boxes. From a design standpoint, this design passes with clever and interactive elements. But from a conversion standpoint, it fails. I believe the company is in the midst of a website re-design. Hopefully it will be more user-friendly.

2. Maqina

This site is aesthetically pleasing, but at first glance it is unclear what the webmaster is offering. The same problems evident with the first example apply to this website as well.

It’s important to note that beautiful website design should be honored since it is creative and representative of a designer’s skill level. I want to acknowledge these designers for quality work, for creativity is their art form. But, if conversions are the “life bread” of your business, a creative web design without a conversion strategy and user friendly design will not get the job done.

Take a look at the two examples below. They are websites that have used the principles of usability to create a seamless, easy user experience for visitors.

3. op45 Design Agency

This site may seem plain and simple in design, but it is most likely very effective. Imagine you were a business looking for creative services. Here are the main things you would want to know about a potential client:

  • Services
  • Past clients
  • About the Company
  • Easy method of contact
  • Portfolio

Within seconds, the website visitor can find the above information without much difficulty. Your eye is drawn to the four subsections below the logo and then to the featured clients. The slider also reveals some recent client work.

Immediately, visitors feel at ease because not only can they find the information for which they are looking, but they will also feel they are in the hands of a reputable agency.

4. Invention Ark

This site is not a creative agency, but the design is worth a mention. The use of color and simple, clean lines cause key elements to stand out. The three boxes underneath the main image are clear and concise and your eye gravitates toward them because this is where visitors will acquire the important information they seek. The purpose of the website is front and center and visitors know exactly what the website offers. Notice the clear call-to-action!

These principles apply both to one-man freelance websites and large agencies. The main goal is to provide visitors with the information they seek without them expending much effort.

So how do you know if your website is pleasing to your visitors?
Can you discover what your website visitors are thinking?

You may not be able to read the minds of your website visitors but you can do the next best thing… usability testing.

Usability Testing

Usability testing has become very popular because even expert marketers will miss important usability issues on their websites.

It’s hard to see your website as others see it because you are accustomed to looking at it through your perception. But, there is a whole world of different opinions out there and acquiring them is priceless.

Usability tools will allow you to watch your visitors’ behaviors as they navigate through your site. You will notice if they leave abruptly, stay on a page too long, or leave too soon to another page. Watch their mouse movement as it occurs in real time.

Free Testing

This test is officially known as the “mom test”. If you have a mother who is old enough to know about computers but not technologically savvy enough to understand conversion rates, you have the right woman for the job! A grandmother will also work as long as she knows how to use a computer. (Men are also welcomed!)

Assign your tester a task to perform on your website. For example, if you offer website design services, tell your tester to find out about the services you offer along with various other tasks. Instruct him/her to also contact you for information via the website.

Important: Your tester must verbalize every step voicing any opinions, issues or problems along the way. Notice how long it takes for the tester to locate a page and listen to what he/she says when arriving and leaving a page.

The more the merrier! Recruit as many people as you can to gain invaluable insight about your website.

Paid Tools

Though the following are paid tools, they are relatively inexpensive and many offer free trials. They are effective because they allow you to track your visitors’ movements and behaviors in real time.

Crazy Egg

Crazy Egg’s tools allow webmasters to translate visitor activity and behavior into visual maps. With eye-tracking capabilities, follow your visitors’ moves and spy on what they are clicking and where they are going in real time.

Here is what the Crazy Egg heatmap looks like on a website:

Crazy Egg also offers tools such as scrolling and overlay which shows you how many clicks a particular element receives on your website.

ClickTale

Webmasters will find a whole suite of tools at ClickTale such as detailed heatmaps, visitor recordings, real time monitoring, campaign tracking and more. Watch your visitors’ actions in real time and observe every click and keystroke.

The below image shows real-time monitoring statistics of visitors’ activities seconds after they occur.

User Testing

If the “mom test” is not your thing, but you like the idea of users verbalizing their opinions as they navigate through your website, User Testing is a good choice.

User Testing

User Testing is a service that employs testers of all demographics and skill levels to perform assigned tasks on your website while recording their sessions. The tester will also fill out a customizable questionnaire.

Tip: Choose testers that are closely aligned with your target audience. For example, if you sell wedding favors, choose females from the age of 25-45, since this is the most popular age women get married. Give testers a realistic scenario a visitor would face when coming to your website.

Conclusion

A few tweaks to make your website more user-friendly can transform a beautiful website design into one that converts well and increases your profits. Focus on the user first and the actions you desire them to take and incorporate those elements into the overall design.

What do you think about the relationship between design and usability? Have you made your website user friendly?

Jenna Scaglione

Jenna Scaglione is a successful content writer, internet marketer, and a lover of family, friends and life. As the owner/operator of Lady Content, she helps her clients around the world increase brand awareness on the internet through content writing and social media.

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6 Comments
  1. Kathleen Mattson Mar 28, 6:21 pm

    I sometimes have to battle with the client who wants things exactly the way he wants them, even though it makes the site less usable. Gone are any visual cues as to what text is linked… Products are listed by incomprehensible product numbers… Services are categorized in a non-intuitive way. Don’t get me started on the client who wanted to use her favorite display font for body text! Usually once they see testing results they give in — so taking the time to add testing to the project is critical!

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  2. Aaron Mar 28, 6:47 pm

    I usually love my updates on DesignModo… and I agree with much of what is said here, but how can you show work that promotes 2000’s aesthetic in web design to illustrate your point (Invention Ark)? REALLY? Big bulky buttons with no attention to typography or detail. A color palette that hurts my eyes? C’mon DesignModo, when we applaud and promote “bad website design” I think we’re taking many steps backward. There are many better examples that illustrate your point. Just saying.

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    • Adrian Mar 28, 8:29 pm

      Hi Aaron, sorry for bad examples :) we promise to be more careful in future.

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  3. bsmity Apr 4, 5:18 pm

    I have to agree with Aaron, still trying to figure out why you used Invention Ark as an example.

    “This site is not a creative agency, but the design is worth a mention.” Really?

    Brownie points lost…

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  4. Rachael Apr 19, 1:33 pm

    I might be a bit controversial here but I don’t think Invention Ark is all that bad, or maybe I should phrase that differently, I’ve certainly seen worse.

    It is a bit in your face colour wise and the sizes seem a bit large for the call to actions but the overall finish of the site is good quality with nice attention to detail with strokes.

    I actually prefer it’s use of colour compared to the non use of colour in the other examples!

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  5. wd Jun 13, 1:20 pm

    Very nice post. Really useful.Thanks for it. Usability is one of the key factors of website designing and you can not ignore the fact that you can not cater to everyone, but you have to offer something for everyone.

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