This post is part of a new series of case studies by and for in-house editors. The focus of this series is on the personal experiences and various roles of in-house editors. A post will appear on the Editors’ Weekly every other month. If you’re interested in writing a post for this series, please email Sara Promislow.
When you think of a website, you may think of paragraphs to read, images to peruse or empty boxes to type in. But what you may not think of is that for many sites, every aspect of user interaction, from the size of text boxes to the labels on buttons, has been analyzed to determine what makes them easier (or more engaging) to use. One method of analysis is usability testing.
What Is Usability Testing?
Usability testing is when designers ask users to complete a task on a website and take notes about what happens. The notes are then used to improve the site’s user experience (UX).
These sessions often involve one-way mirrors so that the user sits in one room and others monitor the user through the non-reflective side of the mirror. A UX professional asks the user questions about the task they’ve been asked to accomplish, such as:
- If you wanted to review an order you made on this website, how would you start?
- What do you think this page heading means?
- When you read a paragraph of text, did it answer your questions?
The person leading the test encourages the user to explain their thoughts aloud.
How Editors Benefit From Taking Part in Usability Testing
Getting such real-time user feedback can be invaluable not only to designers, but also to writers and editors, especially if multiple users have the same questions or experience the same problems navigating a site.
For example, if a user has been asked to log into an online account to check a bill for a recent purchase, you may realize things like:
- The key selling point that your employer or client wants to use in all their marketing needs to be rewritten.
- You need to rewrite components of your company’s online bill because customers don’t understand that “HST” refers to taxes.
- You’re using inconsistent terminology across the site, and customers don’t recognize that “offers exclusive to you” means the same thing as “personalized offers.”
These insights will be important when you write the next draft of copy for a specific page or series of pages. You can also use them to persuade your colleagues away from a specific design choice or course of action, because you have evidence that what they’re suggesting won’t work.
Where to Learn More About Usability Testing
Two well-known books about usability testing are Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug. You can also check out websites that discuss UX and user interface design, like A List Apart (www.alistapart.com), Smashing Magazine (www.smashingmagazine.com) and The Interaction Design Foundation (https://www.interaction-design.org/).
Previous post from the in-house editing series: Client Relationships for the In-house Editor.
The Editors’ Weekly is the official blog of Editors Canada. Contact us.