Archive

Posts Tagged ‘web usability’

Hierarchy of Needs – the Deprecated Pyramid

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Essential Question: Can User Experience and Usability needs fit into a  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs type pyramid?

All these pyramids are deprecated.  I’ve spent the last few hours slowly fading into madness and … here is how it began…

Ben and I got to discussion a post on UXMovement.com titled “Are You Meeting the User Experience Hierarchy of Needs?” by Anthony.  It was interesting and had a bunch of comments.  I decided to research it more and share it with you. here:

First Maslow’s

Pretty much everything from the 40s sucked... name one, really

Everyone ‘sort of’ understands Maslow’s pyramid. They may not understand it fully.  It may be like Darwin’s theory of evolution – everyone can give you the basic tenants, but it is probably misunderstood. Here’s my understanding of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Food and water and shelter are basic needs that take precedence over things like morality and respect of others.  You must satisfy the basic, base levels of the pyramid BEFORE you can / want to satisfy the higher levels.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often cited when explaining why a typically law-abiding person will break the law (higher order) in order to get food or sex (lower order).  It’s a theory I have problems with.

Here are my questions: In order to be a whole person do you need to satisfy all needs?  Is it harder to meet higher,  mid, or lower needs?  Does the pyramid establish a sequential order for achieving needs?  And, to transition to interface design, must a “quality” website satisfy the all needs?  Is it harder to meet the higher needs than the lower needs? Must the design process start with satisfying lower basic needs and move on to higher needs?

UXMovement.com article by Anthony Tseng

Tseng's Hierarchy

This article and chart puts functionality as the base of the pyramid.  Together with information, this forms the first half of basic needs.  The top half are higher needs with aesthetics below and usability on top.

Usability breaks out of the pyramid top suggesting that it is not inside the pyramid – or this could have been done to promote readability as the font would be very small if made to fit in the tip of the pyramid.

He outlines a model that says you must begin interface design with functionality and move on to content and aesthetics in order to achieve usability. Anthony defines usability as “the ease-of-use of an interface that increases user productivity.” There was some debate on this article and several commenters wanted to put aesthetics at the top of the pyramid – which makes me scratch my head.

Flickr hypercatalecta UX hierarchy

Pretty Bullshit or Insightful visualization?

Even though Anthony did not like this pyramid Chart, I like it quite a bit.  Anthony called it pretty bullshit (which I thought was slightly rude). Just like a cow patty, this chart can teach a lesson. Working from the outside in, the chart establishes two contexts. At the top we have subjective/qualitative and ‘focused on experiences( people, activities, context)’ with an arrow pointing downward.  The second context is at the bottom it states: objective/quantifiable ( products, features) and ‘focused on tasks’ with an arrow pointing upward.

Within the context of tasks (going up), the graphic seems to relate that the priority sequence is: functional( useful), reliable, … and peaking at meaningful.

Within the context of experience (going down), the graphic seems to relate that the priority of sequence is reversed – that meaningful is the first priority and functional useful is the last priority.

This chart tries to make the distinction between subjective experiences and objective tasks.  That’s what I like about it. It seems state that if a subjective experience is meaningful and pleasurable that it does not have to be reliable or functional. Or that a subjective experience that is meaningful and pleasurable need not be reliable or functional. And this DOES seem to be descriptive of my personal experience.

If you have a meaningful and pleasurable relationship with a beautiful girlfriend, you don’t really care if it’s reliable or functional [Radio Edit]. But I don’t think he’s talking about relationships. If you just love your iPhone , you can subjectively overlook usability [Siri, why can’t I just drag and drop my files from my computer to my iPhone.  Siri?] – Think supercars in the 80s – Toyota’s were WAY more usable. If you were focused on tasks, then you just care if it’s useful and reliable (Toyota)-you don’t really care that it’s not meaningful or pleasurable (Ferrari).

The fact that convenient lies in the center of hypercatalecta‘s diagram  is important. That says that convenience is of equal value for objective users and subjective users. Both those focused on experiences and those focused on tasks care about convenience.

But here’s my problem: why is it a pyramid?. I have a feeling they just did that to make it look pretty. Perhaps this is why Anthony called it pretty bullshit (He called another guy pretentious )  But, because it defines the subjective / objective vectors, it gives me valuable insights.  When working with some clients – subjectively oriented clients – they really only care about aesthetics… but here is where I think folks are missing the point – the reason they feel that way, is because that’s their experience.  That’s how they experience the site.  It’s their user experience.

This is why I concur with Paul Veugen –  and others –   that user experience is a super-system of usability.  And, user experience is a complex interaction of many facets.  Why?  That little word USER.  People are complex – they are different shapes and sizes, speak different languages, and use websites in different ways and for different reasons.  Simply put – WE are the definition of complexity on this planet …currently

Alternatively, usability is technical.  Usability can be measured… and can be measured by any asshole.  Can you hear me now?

Voted most popular (non-contexual) user tester!

Moving forward –

Here’s a slideshare from Lyndon Cerejo from back in 2001.  This is actually a very good article and I need to spend more time with it… but I’m getting pretty sidetracked here.

lyndon Cerejo graphic

Lyndon Cerejo's insightful pyramid from a decade ago

 

Ugh… let’s look to Smashing Magazine, surely they are shed some light here.

Smashing Mag pyramid

Smashing Mag, per usual, has the issues covered

This article,’Designing For A Hierarchy Of Needs‘ starts off with:

Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the idea of a design hierarchy of needs rests on the assumption that in order to be successful, a design must meet basic needs before it can satisfy higher-level needs. Before a design can “Wow” us, it must work as intended. It must meet some minimal need or nothing else will really matter.

Is this true? Or could a design that’s hard to use still succeed because it makes users more proficient or meets certain creative needs? Do you have to get all of the low-level needs exactly right before considering higher-level needs? To answer these questions, let’s start by looking at Maslow’s hierarchy.

Notice the author () is talking about general design. Ugh!  Sure enough, we have some semantic issues here.  Damn you language and our plastic language brains.

I feel much of the confusion and debate is sparked by imperfect language and vocabulary.  Design, user experience, and usability: These terms are sometimes used inter-changeably.  Yet, they can be very different.

Can you use these pyramids to build sites and interfaces?  Sure.  But, here’s my insight, you CAN test this way – Regardless of if testing Design, User Experience, or usability.  First test for the base needs and then test for the higher needs.  Why do this?  Well, why not.  Think of it like a map and a way to segment the complex task into manageable chunks.  And, it can help prioritize your testing and help you make decisions and communicate problems to the stakeholders.

For your viewing Pleasure, I’ve collected all the Pyramids on my own private Giza.

image of several UX pyramids

Let's get it all on the table

Final Thoughts

Let’s face it – People love charts and pretty bullshit.  Pyramids are old and busted – honeycomb is the new hotness. Users are complex.

So!  There’s my insight. There’s my learning to share.  I hope you enjoyed it. Now, I’m off to share a beer!

User-Testing in 3 Questions: Why Drive-By User Testing Works

December 7, 2011 1 comment

[Note: In Monday’s podcast I said we were going to be doing a real user test today. We’ve decided to push that back to next week. We had two more items we wanted to get to first.]

When we first started learning about user testing back in August, I was under the presumption that user testing was essentially a controlled, systematic endeavor. But as Steve Krug and Jakob Neilsen will tell you, there’s more than one way to test a cat. (That’s a direct quote, I believe.) A lot can be gained just by getting feedback from somebody. They argue that the name of the game is improving your website (not testing a hypothesis) and that most major issues on a website are visible to most users.

Krug advocates companies set aside one morning a month to do three user tests. Then, debrief over lunch.

This rapid-testing idea was inspiring. It’s like everybody knows what’s not working on your site, and to learn the secret to what’s broken, all you have to do is ask them to tell you about it. Whoa!

You said it.

But is that true?

Are we all walking around with an innate sense of what sucks on websites? And if so, why can’t we design a perfect one out of the gate? If we all have the magical power of user testing, why can’t we user-test our own site and save the time, cost, and hassle of asking other people?

Proximity

The reason you can’t user test your own website is because you’re too close to it. You’re like a director who can’t enjoy his own movie in the same way as a regular viewer because you remember what happened off screen. When you look at your own website you remember the versions of the site that almost were and you know intimately the reasons and compromises that went into creating your current website. You can’t see the forest for the trees.

Your average user is focused on a completely different experience. They are focused on what game theorists call “utility-value maximization”. In plain English, it means that people are goal oriented on websites. It’s built into the way the Internet works. We click on links because we want to access new content. Each click is a statement of purpose. When a user visits your website, they are there for a reason and they have a goal in mind. Han Solo had it right about web design when he said, “Give the wookie what he wants.”

Mental Models

Have you ever helped a relative get a computer or get on the Internet or otherwise interface with a completely new piece of technology for the first time? Do you remember the first time you opened Photoshop or Illustrator or Dreamweaver or the first time you tried to center something with CSS and you had that feeling that you were in completely new territory?

That happens when you have no way to contextualize what you’re seeing with your previous experience.

People create mental models of all their behaviors. Have you ever caught yourself having a dumb conversation with somebody about the weather when (a) you don’t really know why you’re talking to them in the first place and (b) there’s nothing special about the weather? Why do we do that?

Or how about in movies and TV shows when people hang up the phone without saying goodbye first. That’s always weird to me. It’s because my mental model includes goodbye language at the end of phone conversations and in TV shows, it doesn’t advance the plot so it isn’t necessary.

Once you get your non-techie relative online, they too will begin to create a mental model of how the Internet works. Some of it will be based on fact. A lot of it will be based on feelings and intuition that is not correct. (I’m reminded of an old boss who, every time he saw the Blue Scree of Death on his PC would scream “BILL GATES!”) But people don’t get retrained when they learn the Internet wrong. Nope, we just deal and hope they catch up.

Jakob Nielsen points out many of the points of technical confusion in his blog post on the same topic.

  • Operating-system windows vs. browser windows
  • A window vs. an application,
  • Icons vs. applications,
  • Browser commands vs. native commands in a Web-based app
  • Local vs. remote info
  • Different passwords and log-in options (users often log in to other websites as if they were logging in to their email)

In short, when it comes to computers, a lot of us are still getting our act together. What happens as people gain experience using the Internet is they gain an intuition for how websites are supposed to work. And that’s why there’s a great list of usability conventions to use when developing your website.

What does this mean for web sites and user testing?

Signal vs. Noise

All communications come down to the issue of signal vs. noise. Those of us old enough to remember when Sprint was a long distance company who had sound quality so clear you could hear a pin drop have experience with the problem. In any communication medium, whether it’s spoken and heard, or transmitted by radio, TV, print, telegram, fax machine, or Internet, the message must be transmitted and it must be received. The message is encoded in a language and in a medium, and in a context. In order for it to be decoded correctly, the person receiving the message must understand the language, have access to the medium, and know the context in which the message is meant.

See? Easy.

Think of a physical long-distance phone line. The reason Sprint was so happy about their clear signal is because it’s hard to eliminate all the noise. Static, buzzing, clicks, pops – all could (and did) effect the ability to be heard.

When you think about a telephone line, the communication can be broken down into two parts:

  1. The mechanical workings of transmitting a person’s voice from one place to another and,
  2. The content of the communication

If you were to user-test the phone line, you could test for the same two attributes above:

  1. The quality of message transmission and,
  2. The content of the message

Unless you own a tin-foil hat, phone companies today don’t care about the content of your phone calls, texts, and messages. They are focused on delivering on the quality of message transmission. Also, because we all have such a complete mental model on how to make a phone call, it turns out that isn’t the part of the phone business that’s growing now. The user experience for making and receiving phone calls is essentially complete. The new wrinkle is welding the digital side of things to the phone. Now it’s all about experiencing the mobile Internet. And that, invariably, leads to more half-baked mental models for using the Internet.

The Medium vs. the Message

Like the double rainbow dude, we’re left to wonder, “What does it all mean!?”

Let’s cut to the chase.

When you add up the fact that there are so many ways to leave a page – from going to another site, clicking the back button, closing the window, getting up and walking away, clicking into a different window, getting distracted, plus the various mental models that people have for how the Internet should work, it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of noise in the channel.

In the physical long-distance phone line we discussed earlier, the medium was the phone line. In your website your critical path is the medium.

Now let’s think about that for a second. Remember how earlier we said that clicking a link is a statement of intent. It could be that the user is expecting to end up on a YouTube video or is expecting to see an Amazon page for digital cameras or is looking for an article on Wikipedia or a house on an MLS. The content is the message. The Internet is the medium. And getting to your content is part of the medium.

We’ve all dropped a call on our mobile phone. There’s a distinct difference between a phone call where you’ve said everything you wanted to and hung up and when the call drops. When the call drops – you can’t communicate any longer. In the same way, if your website can’t get the user to the content they’re looking for, then it can’t deliver the message. It’s a failure of the medium to deliver the message.  The noise in your website has to be low enough so that people can find the signal they are searching for.

This signal, the message, is what the message says. It’s the literal content of your website. This is why developing a strong critical path is so crucial. The only way to be heard above the din of distraction is to have a focused message and to provide an obvious way to access that content.

What we’re talking about here is signal quality. And all that’s necessary to test a signal is somebody on the other end to describe what they’re getting.

If we were testing long-distance phone service we’d whip on some glasses, stomp through the woods and ask “Can you hear me now?“. But since we’re testing websites, all that’s required is to ask somebody else what they see on your website.

User Testing in 3 Questions

When you’re looking for quick insights about your website, you’re looking to know something about signal strength. It’s evident in the type of questions that are asked.

Take the basic questions from usertesting.com’s test:

  1. What frustrated you most about this site?
  2. If you had a magic wand, how would you improve this site?
  3. What did you like about the site?

None of them concern the content on the website. All of them are testing either signal or noise.

Break down the expected answers:

  1. What frustrated you the most? 99% of the time this is going to be an answer that relates to not being able to find something. It could also have something to do with your messaging.
  2. How would you improve the site? Because you directed them to the site and not what your site sells or provides, this answer is going to relate somehow either to accessing information or clarifying options.
  3. What did you like about the site? This will help with positive feedback and will help you confirm areas of the website that perform well or stand out to the user.

Nothing in there explicitly dealt with the quality of the material. What’s important is strengthening the signal.

I should state that these are not the only questions you could use in a 3-question test. You can test the critical path, a secondary path, or test for comprehension and cognitive load with your site structure without knowing anything about the user.

And we’re going to prove it. Next week, with a little luck, we’ll bring you a video of our own 3 question drive-by user test.

Sell More on Your Website by Understanding a Bit About Entropy

October 19, 2011 3 comments

If you listened to Monday’s podcast, you know that I’m on a bit of a kick about entropy. It has to do with this book I’m reading called The Information, by James Gleick. The book is a history of information and the rise of information theory. Really good stuff. And he spends a good bit of time going on about entropy.

Now, entropy is a bit of a scary word. It has a kind of intrinsic feel to it, like we have some intuitive sense of what it means but when it comes to spitting out a specific definition, we all turn into karaoke performers trying to sight read Snow’s song “Informer”.

Hello? 1992 called. They want their metaphor back.

Entropy, simply, is a measure of the unavailability of work inside a closed system.

At least that was its original definition. It was first purposed by Rudolf Clausius and described a specific quality of thermodynamics.

Energy as Information

James Clerk Maxwell was the first to link this quality to the idea of information.  See, he looked at it as order and disorder. Order and disorder imply knowledge. To make order you must know something about the thing you are ordering. In his mind, it involved a little demon who controlled a very tiny door between two rooms. In one room were fast moving molecules. In the other room were slow moving molecules. And he decided what molecules got through the door. While he was sitting at the door he could choose to mix the molecules or keep them separate. But, because of the laws of thermodynamics, if he were to just open the door, after a period of time of fast molecules bumping into small molecules, every molecule would more or less be moving at the same speed*.

Makes a great Halloween costume.

With the help of Maxwell’s Demon, entropy was now linked to information.

The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy is always increasing. This means that without intervention, everything moves from order to disorder. Or to put that another way, from specific to general.

If you’ve ever been to a business meeting, you’ve seen this before: Interesting, dynamic ideas often get presented at the start of a meeting and boring, mediocre ones often end them.  Sweet, sweet car designs are presented at automobile shows and then the same boring sedans are cranked out year after year. Windows XP was supplanted by Windows Vista.

Entropy is everywhere.

A case can be made that what made Steve Jobs great was his ability to fight entropy in the extreme. Before him, computers were for governments, science and business. Because of him we can talk to our phone using natural language and it can respond to our information needs.  For sure, he didn’t do this alone and in a vacuum.  But it’s hard to deny that he brought information to the masses in a way that had never been seen or experienced before.

He gave people the tools to be able to manipulate information – to create order out of disorder. He created the technological environment that we are now living in.  Would there be an Android without an iPhone?  Would Windows 7 be half the OS it is now without having to compete with OSX?

Dig a little deeper into social behavior and two themes for how people deal with entropy begin to emerge.

People’s Relationship to Entropy

  1. They want to create order from disorder
  2. Not all the time

Now let’s run those two rules through a “customer” filter and see what happens.

Customer’s Relationship to Entropy

  1. People have a finite amount of energy to spend in a day
  2. As a result, people want to conserve their energy
  3. People want to expend energy on activities of their choice
  4. People do not want to spend their energy unnecessarily

And like that we’re out of thermodynamics and into the world of web design.

Common Sense Stuff

What a customer is saying is: I’ll buy your product or service if I like it and the price but I’m not going to spend a lot of energy to do it.

Now we can state the goal of web design in scientific terms:

The goal of web design is to produce a website with low entropy.

That is to say, a web design is successful when it makes it easy for a person to do what they want to with as little effort as possible.

And this can be measured.  Right now.  In fact, you may already be measuring it.

Entropy and Efficiency

Look at the number of visitors to your site.  Look at the number of sales.  Now, do that for the past six months, or year, or two years and get an average number of visits to sales.  Whatever that percentage is, that’s how well your website has worked over that period of time.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument that you have 100 visitors to your website each month, on average, for the past year. And in that time, on average, you had 2 sales each month.  Simple math will tell you that your website has a 2% conversion rate.  That is to say, it is two-percent efficient.

The goal of user testing is to discover changes that can be made that will increase the number of sales on your website, given the same number of visitors.

If user testing is conducted and changes are made to the website in the above example and over the next several months the website averaged 4 sales per month, the website would have doubled its efficiency from 2% to 4%.

Efficiency is directly related to entropy. Entropy, remember is about order and disorder. The more order we bring to the website, the less energy the visitor has to expend to buy the product or service and the more efficient it is.

The reason we should talk as designers about entropy rather than efficiency is because efficiency is a by-product of entropy, not the other way around. Entropy is by its nature probabilistic.  The more knowledge you have about the pages of your website, the more effect you have can on reducing entropy – you become like Maxwell’s demon deciding which molecules to let through the door.

Practically Speaking

Every page on your website that somebody can find via search or a link is a potential entry point. Likewise, every page is a click away from being an exit point. It’s all very messy and random.

The job of web designers, programmers, interface designers, and SEO people do is give shape to those pages.

SEO is responsible for managing the website’s relationship with search engines. Another way to think about it is that they are responsible for getting traffic to the website. In a closed system, an SEO guy wouldn’t be necessary. But our website itself exists in the larger eco-system of the Internet and so messaging extends beyond your website. SEO, because of its connection to traffic, is the first person to set expectations for your website’s visitors.

Designers and programmers work to bring shape to the website. E-commerce sites have catalog pages, product description pages, a cart, and a checkout process – and they show up in that order.

Information sites like Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia are designed so that information can be easily found and accessed.

From disorder emerges order.

On this website we’ve spent a good bit of time talking about defining a website’s critical path. We believe that user testing should revolve around improving the efficiency of that path.  It’s important to remember that it’s a literal path. It is about energy flow.

Entropy, for a website, can be defined as the likelihood that a visitor to a website will NOT complete the critical path.

Fighting entropy on a website means giving form to and then reducing the resistance of the critical path.

This is why a conversion funnel is such a valuable web analytics tool.  It shows entry and exit points with respect to the critical path.  It points out to you places where user testing could reduce entropy.

On Friday, we’re going to take a look at the third-rail of web design: pricing.

Nothing introduces entropy into a website quite like pricing.  Money is really a physical manifestation of a person’s energy.  They know that they have to expend a certain amount of energy to accumulate money.  Money, like energy, is also finite for most people. Thus, pricing is directly related energy, and thus, entropy.

We’re going to take a look at some pricing strategies that can reduce entropy and increase the odds that your site’s visitors will respond positively to your price point.

#####

* I saw more or less because it’s not practical for the average person to know the behavior of every molecule. So what has risen in its place are laws of probability. That is to say, while a closed system tends towards maximum entropy, at the molecular level, there will be exceptions to this rule. Extremely unlikely events, however unlikely, still happen. But at the macro level, these probabilities are so low as to be practically non-existent.

Cut the Chute and Get on the Critical Path (to Profit)

September 28, 2011 4 comments

If you’ve been following the website or podcasts over the past few weeks you’ve seen Newman and I dig into the topic of web usability. We approached it, at first, from a philosophical perspective.  We talked about the web design process and where web usability fits into it.  We found various tools online to assist in doing user tests and we’ve found various models for how to conduct user tests.

And we started to realize something: these models tend to be obnoxiously vague.  Even when they make intuitive sense, they still leave the reader with more questions than answers.

I feel like they keep creating iterations of the old Sony business model:

Step 1: Bright idea
Step 2: ????
Step 3: Profit!

 


It’s Mr. Sony and he’s a naughty kitty!

WTF is Step 2? Nobody I’ve read (and I’ll readily admit that I have much more to read) has articulated a quality strategy for conducting a user test. And all the user test examples I’ve seen have bared this out.

What I’ve noticed is that somebody will develop a model.  For example:

I actually like this model. I think it does a good job of describing the steps and grouping the various considerations into each step. But what drives me crazy about it is that it doesn’t compel me to do anything specific. This is a 25,000 foot view of the web ux universe. And as you’ll see, it’s practically the only view these models will present:

Same thing with this model, except in this model, they’re using words and phrases I’m familiar with but use them in ways that are not intuitive and meaningful.

You can look at those two models or even the one we were initially so high on in Monday’s podcast at usability.gov until blood shoots out of your nose and you’ll never get to a better understanding of how to conduct a user test.

What we need to do is cut the chute.

We’re sailing along at 25,000 feet looking at our surroundings. If we were really sky diving we’d see a number of geological formations beneath us: flatland, rivers, mountains, and so on. That’s what’s amazing about being that high up – it’s possible to see how the mountains are connected to the rivers. You see how the rivers feed and nourish the surrounding area because the surrounding area is lush with vegetation and various critters. Finally you see that river find its delta where it meets the ocean. It’s a point-of-view that’s hard to visualize from ground-level.

What it doesn’t do is tell you why there are mountains and rivers; why life crops up around those rivers, or most importantly for this analogy: how to terraform.

This analogy, like life, revolves around water. In this case, a river.

There’s an idea that we’ve previously covered called the critical path.

This idea, for the uninitiated, is extremely simple.

Pictured: A critical path.

A critical path is the path a user must take through your website in order to complete the website’s primary goal.

Visualize it in its most common form: an e-commerce cart. The critical path looks something like this:

FRONT PAGE –> CATEGORY PAGE –> PRODUCT DESCRIPTION PAGE –> CART –> CHECKOUT –> RECEIPT

Now, obviously, it’s not necessary for somebody to start at the front page of a web site to buy something. Furthermore, this might not be the only way that a person could navigate the site that would result in a purchase. But what we just described is a from-the-rooter-to-the-tooter critical path. It’s got a little bit of everything.

If we look at this critical path more closely we can really divide it into two smaller sections based on what the pages do.

When a person buys something, they always go through this process:

Step 1: Find a product to buy
Step 2: Buy the product

Similarly, a website’s critical path can be divided into two sections: pages that help the user find a product and pages that help the user to buy.

I like to think of the pages that fit in Step 1 as FILTERS and the pages that fit in Step 2 as CONFIRMERS.

Let’s look at that critical path again:

Filters: FRONT PAGE –> CATEGORY PAGE –> (SUB-CATEGORY PAGE) –>

Confirmers: PRODUCT DESCRIPTION PAGE –> CART –> CHECKOUT –> RECEIPT

The Front Page, Category Page, (and sub-category pages if necessary) are all filters. Their purpose is to direct traffic to the Product Description page.

The Product Description page is really the beginning of the checkout process. Done right it will either sell the product using pictures, text, and multimedia; or it will confirm the shopper’s good sense to buy that particular product.

From the moment the shopper adds the product to the cart, the only job your website has is to get them into and through the checkout. This part of your website is so important that web analytics packages like Google Analytics include a tool that specifically measures this part of the process. It’s commonly known as a Conversion Funnel or Goal Conversion Funnel.

It looks like this:

Pictured: That part of Google Analytics that you’ve been meaning to mess with.

The action in a conversion funnel is centered around the sales process – as it should be – because we want shoppers to buy the stuff they put in their cart.

But what about those FILTER pages? Where’s their visualization tool?

Web Usability folks have the tools to do the job but they’re rarely considered as tools to measure the effectiveness of how a user filters the information on your site. The tools are the click-maps that visualize where users click on a page. If one has the resources to do an eye-tracking test, then the heat-maps are just as valid a tool but they track the user’s eyes instead of their mouse. It’s the same underlying principal that’s been taken to another level of granularity.

 

Pictured: Granularity

What does this mean for designing a web usability test?

To me, it means that we’re out of the clouds where we talk about the three tiers of goals

Tier 1: Business and User Goals
Tier 2: Site Goals
Tier 3: Page Goals

and into a place where we connect Tier 1 to Tier 3. Once you see it, it’s so obvious it’s hard to imagine that you hadn’t seen it before.

The way you do it is by drawing a path from Step 1/Tier 1 (Goals) to Step 3/Tier 3 (Profit). Because it’s such an important path, one might even call it a critical path.

So you see, now we have the ability to design a user test because now we know the goal of user testing.

 

The goal of usability testing is to determine the effectiveness of your website’s critical path.

 

This makes all the sense in the world. The website is a machine built specifically to achieve an objective. User testing needs to be focused around measuring how well the machine achieves the objective.

Now, knowing that, how does that translate into actually designing a web usability test?

Newman will have to speak to that. Fortunately that’s what he’s preparing for Friday.

On Friday, Newman is going to break down for you the basics of creating a user test and how designing a user test around the critical path forces radical deviations from the standard questions that are often found on web usability tests. It’s sure to cause some controversy because for some jacked up reason it seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

 

3 Questions For You

 

1. What web ux tests have you done and what was its primary goal?
2. Have you ever done a web ux test where evaluating the efficiency of the site’s critical path?
3. Can there be valuable non-critical paths in a website?