Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Weekly User Testing: TiVo Did It, You Can, Too

Jacob Nielsen's advice on frequency of usability testing ...

"TiVo ran 12 user tests in 12 weeks while designing its new website. As TiVo's experience shows, frequent and regular testing keeps the design usability focused.

I've always recommended fast and cheap user testing, with as many iterations as you can squeeze into your schedule. My true preference is weekly testing; make, say, every Wednesday your User Day and schedule 4 customers to test.

Unfortunately, I know of few projects that have sustained this pace, and many of those were my own. Recently, I came across another project that employed weekly testing: the redesign of tivo.com.

I've long been a fan of TiVo's usability. Indeed, 4 years ago, The New York Times quoted me calling the oversized yellow pause button in the middle of the TiVo remote ''the most beautiful pause button I've ever seen.''

As it happens, Nielsen Norman Group's own research confirms the new TiVo website's usability. Before I knew about the design team's methodology, we had selected the site to be part of one of our independent research studies, in which we compare a bunch of sites to derive general lessons for Web usability. We included Tivo.com as an example of a "fancy" design, and it scored in the top 20% in our study. It's definitely possible to have a good-looking, media-rich site, as long as you keep usability as a goal throughout the design process.

After hearing that TiVo employed my favorite usability approach, I decided to find out more about how they did it. Here's what we learned from talking with three key members of the TiVo team.
TiVo Case Study
Although the usability of TiVo's DVR product interface has been celebrated, it was only in a recent redesign that the company applied the same rigorous user research to its website. As a company known for including user testing in its product development, TiVo realized that this situation was incongruous.

"I'm selling you a product where the key differentiator is ease of use," says Margret Schmidt, the company's vice president of user experience and design, "but if the website isn't easy to use, how will you believe that the product is? We tried to bring that to the site."    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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