Whenever somebody tells me that they really don’t see the point in doing usability testing on their web site, I can’t help myself from asking why. Let’s be honest here — what’s a really good reason for skipping usability testing? The first thing that comes to my mind, of course, is because you’ve just finished a major usability review. I can understand wanting to give it a skip if you’ve just gone through the usability testing process!

But, surprisingly, that’s not the response I actually hear from people. Actually, the most common reasons are very simple:

  1. I’ve never had a problem with it
  2. Nobody’s every complained about a problem

Unfortunately, both of these justifications are problematic. They really aren’t a good reason for passing on usability. See, usability isn’t just about whether or not something worked; it’s also about what happens when a process doesn’t work out. It’s not about whether you made it through the process, it’s about how easy it is to make it through process. You’re pretty well guaranteed to be out of the running in testing your web site — because you actually know how your web site is supposed to work.

If you know that a field takes a particular data format – say, a five-digit postal code – then you’re going to tend to provide what you know the web site wants. It’s what happens when you don’t already know the system which is more educational.

This is certainly a frustrating aspect to usability – no arguments there. But you can’t escape it: if you have inside knowledge about a system, you’re just the wrong person to test it. Obviously, this means that problems that other users have are an important element to pay attention to.

However, a lack of reported problems is not at all the same as not having problems.

Nobody’s ever complained about a problem with your web site? That’s not a certainty of any sort. It could be a different kind of issue — rather than having problems which are very clear cut, such as an inability to enter an international address, you may be experiencing time-out frustrations or issues with a particular payment type being rejected. Or perhaps the problem is actually with the ability to report problems — maybe you haven’t provided an obvious means for people to contact you. Perhaps there’s actually a problem with your contact method itself — negative evidence is essentially worthless. All you can conclude from an absense of complaints is that nobody has delivered a complaint to you. You don’t know that they didn’t try, and you don’t know that they didn’t have a problem.

And finally, having a problem isn’t exactly what usability is trying to fix.

Your users may not be having any problems — they don’t have anything concrete to complain about. However, because your purchase process is onerous, a large percentage of those who begin the purchase fail to complete it. They may not have had an actual problem — they just decided that using your web site was too much work.

Maybe they’re just lazy — but if you’ve got lazy prospects, your site needs to work harder at keeping them around. Don’t let your web site slack off.