University Web Developers

University Web Developers

We've been having debates about focus groups in our office and how to balance the need for usability feedback vs. the urgency of getting a site (or microsite) live.

I found Usability First: Methods somewhere along the line and found it pretty useful for breaking down the different types of methods.

What methods have you used successfully? Likewise, what methods have you used that you weren't satisfied with?

We've been really happy with task analysis in our office, but I have mixed feelings about paper prototyping, for example. I'll explain more in the comments when I get a chance.

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We have found continual usability testing at all stages of a project to be effective. They can be quick and dirty - see Steve Krug's book "Don't Make Me Think" on how to do usability testing on 10 cents a day. Steve also has great resources at the site Advanced Common Sense.
Great advice. Steve Krug's book does a fantastic job of explaining how little time and effort it takes to add usability testing to your design - before, during and after.
Over the last few years we've been trying a few different methods including personas, card sorting, heuristic analysis, and cognitive walkthrough (aka talk aloud or walk-and-talk). For each of these, we've carried them out with varying levels of thoroughness, more often than not adopting a "guerilla usability" approach. I have to say that out of all of these, card sorting has surprisingly been one of the trickier ones.

A few years ago, adopting any formal usability testing or user-centered design method would have been a complete afterthought. So as far as successes go, I'd say the biggest success we've had is the simple fact that we've been able to introduce these methods into our design/development cycles at all!

There's still a long way for us to go, and we still struggle sometimes with finding the balance between building it "right away" vs building it "a better way". In general, which way the scale tips is largely based on the context or details surrounding a specific project or site...which I think will likely always be the case.

What's encouraging is that we're actually at a stage now where there are other folks on campus who are asking for help with these sorts of exercises, and better yet, are setting aside time in their project timelines/budget to incorporate things like user research and testing.
I've found some success with card sorting, especially with the open sort. When talking to clients (or partners as we prefer to call them) it's difficult to get them out of jargon-speak, especially when it comes to organizing and labeling content. After I explain that names must have meaning to the site user, not just the site owner, I then demonstrate the different ways content is organized and, more importantly, labeled by the average person through the open card sort. It's rather eye opening.

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