Test new designs
Do usability testing on new designs to tune their effectiveness.
Last modified: 5/14/98

There is little proven material to copy
The practice of writing business documents for reading on-screen is new. Other than E-mail, program documentation, training, and live slide presentations, there isn't much history. When creating a new type of document for which there aren't many proven samples to copy, testing may be called for.

Test documents where saving time saves lots of money
If the material you are writing will be read by many people in an organization, and you want to minimize the amount of time they spend to find the information they are seeking, you should make sure you use a design that works. The only way to know for sure that a design works is to test it.

For example, if you know most people in an organization check a particular set of 10 status reports once a week, and there are 1000 such people, each costing the company (burdened) $40 an hour, saving one minute of reading time on each report can save over $300,000 a year. In another example, saving just 10 seconds on each 5 minute customer service or sales phone call saves 3% of the labor costs. If the material you put on your Intranet helps even 10% more people avoid a call to the Help Desk, that can be a very large savings, too.

Jakob Nielsen claims that simple testing can be done in-house for as little as 39 work-hours of cost. This shows large potential savings.

Tuning a document can save a lot of reading time
Research by Jakob Nielsen and UIE shows that changes in writing style, link design, and other factors, can affect reading time to find information by a factor of 2 or more, so tuning can make a big difference.

Usability testing helps find answers to questions
Usability testing is a method for finding out what works and what doesn't in a document. It helps you answer questions such as:
   "Is the navigation clear?"
   "Can the reader find what they need?"
   "Which of these two techniques lets them find information faster?"

How is usability testing done?
Usability testing involves giving a number of subjects tasks to complete and recording what they do and say. Rather than just sending someone a copy of your document and asking "What do you think?", you actually watch them to see what they do and what problems they run into. Often, these are problems they would not report on their own. The tester can either watch the subject and take notes (biting their tongue when the subject gets stuck missing "obvious" cues on screen), or more elaborate videotaping can be done. It is important to have the subjects say what they are thinking, and for the tester to watch where they click and their faces for looks of frustration. When they ask "Do I click on A or B?" you shouldn't tell them, but rather say "Which do you think it should be? Try it!" (i.e., let them make the mistakes).

How to find out more about usability testing
You can find some places for more information in our "Related Sites" section. For example, it lists Keith Instone's Usable Web site which has a "Usability Engineering" section. Links there include Keith's article on "Conducting your first user test".

A sample usability report
Early in the development of this web site, Good Documents, we conducted a short usability test. A report from that test has been made public for you to examine.