Monday, June 23, 2008

Extreme Usability: How to Make an Already-Great Design Even Better

Making good websites better ...

"The 1% of websites that don't suck can be made even better by strengthening exceptional user performance, eliminating miscues, and targeting company-wide use and unmet needs.

99% of readers can stop here; this column is for people who have a great website or intranet.

More typically, your site sucks and it's incredibly easy to discover your main usability problems. Test with 5 users and you'll likely get enough insight to double your site's business value. This step is easy; we can teach design teams to run simple usability studies by walking them through a complete test of their designs in just 3 days.

But what if you've already run many rounds of qualitative user testing and improved your site through iterative design? Say you doubled your conversion rate. And then you doubled it again. You're now at a stage where you have a really nice design that satisfies all the obvious user needs and lacks obvious impediments to use. (Like I said, I'm writing for only 1% of readers here. But eventually, you'll be in this situation if you keep polishing your website or intranet through continuous quality improvement.)

Once you've picked all the proverbial low-hanging fruit, it's no longer so easy to improve usability. Quick simple studies are not enough; your design's remaining issues won't be of the gobsmacking kind that are glaringly obvious from testing a handful of users.

To make a good user experience even better, try the following four ideas:

* Identify where your design exceeds expectations, and apply that success even more broadly.
* Look at things that are close to going wrong and ensure that they never will.
* Go beyond user experience for individual customers to consider enterprise usability.
* Discover unmet needs.

When Things Go Well

Taking a metaphor from the airline industry, it's now time for you to study "safe flights." Historically, the airline industry improved safety by studying airline accidents. Modern airplanes now crash so rarely that the industry studies safe flights to achieve further improvements, investigating why flights are safe and whether they had any close calls.

Similarly, you can now review usability study segments that you often skip — that is, those sections where users immediately click the right thing, have no difficulties, and basically like your site. Why was the correct link the most apparent? Why was it so easy for those users to accomplish their goal? And what did they particularly like about the design?

You likely have site areas that have yet to implement all such best practices. Hunt them down and elevate them to the standard established by pages that users love.

To exceed the average levels of user success, identify "lucky" users — the ones who are outliers in terms of uncommonly successful, high-performance use of your design. Do they exhibit any special behaviors that you might strengthen and make even more fruitful? Are there ways to encourage average users to exhibit those same "lucky" behaviors so that they can benefit as well?"    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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