Prototype usability testing? Avoid these common mistakes.

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Testing with wireframes is a fast and easy way of discovering usability issues in the early stage of the design process.
However, you can’t just design a study with wireframes as you would do with a live website.

Wireframes are a low fidelity version of the real thing and that means they also have lots of limitations that can affect the results of your study in many ways, or even completely ruin it, if you don’t take some precautions.

I’ve put together a few useful advices for running great usability studies with wireframes and prototypes avoiding some the most frequent mistakes.

Don’t suggest a correct path

Your wireframes may have limited functionalities, so probably will not allow your users to do any more than the few tasks you’ve set up for testing.
However, you have to make sure that those limitations are not suggesting a right path (or answers) to your participants

Every interface element that is clickable must appear and be clickable, even if it is not linked to anything. Otherwise, users will be able to understand where to navigate just by seeing how the mouse cursor changes while they move across the interface.

The right and wrong version of the same prorotype

All links should look and work like links.

This does not mean that you have to create a wireframe for each page of the interface: you only need to add an anchor link pointing nowhere to each of the navigation options of your page.

If you user clicks on any of them, you can say that it is not a fully functioning prototype and tell your user to try again elsewhere.

If you’re running an unmoderated remote test, you should consider linking to a standard target page with a similar message, so that your users will not think that the site is broken and won’t leave the test (BTW, don’t forget to place a “back” button in the target page).

This page would be quite useful if the testing tool you’re using allows you to keep track of the users’ navigation.
By doing so, you will be able to discover how many errors your users made by counting how many times they saw the page.

 

Double check your wireframes and prototypes in the same browser you will use during the study.

When you are testing a live website, you can be pretty confident that the page will be displayed well in any browser.

HTML prototypes, on the other hand, are not fully developed and may not be optimized for every browser.

Before testing a prototype, make sure that it works well in the browser you are using during your testing sessions.
If you are testing remotely, ensure that it works with all mayor browsers or even ask your participants to use one which is fully compatible with your prototype.
This advice is especially important when testing a mobile prototype since it may look great when you open it in a PC, but completely different in the devices used by your participants.

Careful with A/B testing

If you are testing different versions, make sure that they all allow your users to do the same things and access the same info.
A/B testing with wireframes and prototypes with different levels of fidelity is dangerous and it will provide you with partial and misleading results.

If you want to compare a live website with the html prototype of a new version (and you have time and resources to do that) you should consider creating a quick prototype of the live website too, so that they will be tested in equality of condition.

 

Ensure the right level of fidelity.

The good thing of testing with wireframes is that you can do it without the need of a full functioning interface and in nearly every step of the web design process.
Changes are nearly inexpensive, so each usability issue discovered can be amended quickly and with little effort.

Testing at different stages means you can use more or less detailed wireframes, depending on when you are testing and what you want to test.
In the earliest stages, where you are more focused on the concept rather than the details, you can afford testing with some “lorem ipsum” here and there.

On the contrary, if you are testing a final design and you want to find as many usability issues as possible before going live, that’s the right time to provide actual content to your participants.

Confusing or poor information are two of the most common issues I observed when testing with users. If you test a quite final design with no real content you will probably miss many usability problems.

Prototype testing is only one of the many user research techniques we apply in TeaCup Lab.
Tell us about your project and discover how we can help you by involving your customers in your design process.

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