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Usability Testing for Your Mobile Site

When investing a lot of time developing a site for the iPhone and iPad, you get to know it quite well — so well that you may overlook elements that are obvious to you. Usability testing watches how actual users use the site. Usability testing doesn't test users to determine how well they can use your site; it tests the site to see how well your visitors can use it.

Because everyone has different abilities and perspectives, you should perform usability tests on a minimum of five people. If three or more run into trouble with the same element, you know that you need to change your site to better accommodate your users. Test users who already have iPhones. That way, users who are unfamiliar with how to browse on an iPhone won't skew your results.

Start by asking a friend to review your site. If you have a deep site with a lot of functionality, you may want to ask your friend to talk out loud as while reviewing so that you can understand what they’re thinking.

The following tips can help you gather information about your site’s usability as other people explore your site:

  • Using the finger pointing trick: This trick is useful when watching someone test your site: Ask the person to use their finger to point at what they're looking at while they make their way through the site. Adding a little finger-pointing to their running monologue will help you see the site through their eyes.

  • Assigning specific tasks: Ask the user to accomplish a task that satisfies a goal of the site. If you have a blog site, for example, you may ask the person to make a comment on a post. To do this, state the task and then keep quiet — the hardest part of usability testing is not helping the user navigate the site — that would nullify the test!

  • Spying from a distance: Sometimes, it’s better to be out of view and ask a friend to test in a room alone using a list of tasks you want them to try. In these cases, set up a discreet video camera to record what they say and do — just make sure that they know they're being recorded. (In many states, recording someone without their knowledge is illegal.)

    Even when people are aware of being videotaped, getting out of the room can help take the pressure off testers who may be influenced by your reactions when they get lost or when things don't work as well as you’d hoped. When you find things that don’t work, don’t take it personally — it's a great chance to make your project better.

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