Modern social impact leaders think of their digital platforms as key components of their long-term strategy. When the time comes to create a new website, action center, or media hub, everything from design to messaging and website development needs to come together to help an organization reach its strategic goals.
One critical aspect in the development process is often overlooked as a mere formality — Usability Testing. Often referred to as Quality Assurance (QA) or User Experience testing (UX testing), usability testing goes far beyond making sure all of the buttons work and that each navigation item links to the appropriate page. Usability testing is just as strategically important as design, information architecture, messaging, and copywriting.
It’s time that social impact leaders realized the strategic value of this misunderstood aspect of creating digital platforms.
Understanding the Value of User Experience
Your digital hub is one of the primary places that advocates and funders go to determine if they are going to support your organization. That’s one of many reasons why the user experience must be delightful, inspiring, and engaging.
Today, people expect high-quality online experiences. These experiences signal professionalism, reduce friction and frustration, and provide an intuitive pathway for people to get involved and move up your engagement pyramid. If their experience is sub-par, they are more likely to bounce from your site without engaging or contributing.
Core to your digital and brand strategy and creating sustainable revenue, a new digital hub needs to be thoroughly tested prior to launch to ensure that you get the most value out of it as soon as possible.
User Experience Testing In Practice
When we perform usability testing, we’re testing interactions, hover states, animations, video embeds, page transitions, load times, links, information flow, carousel operation, accessibility, and much, much, more. Testing opens conversations around how the design and information architecture is working to achieve an organization’s — or department’s — strategic goals.
Our testing process allows people to experience what we’re building as we’re building it. This allows stakeholders to provide us with both traditional QA feedback as well as ideas for how to improve the user experience — in whatever form necessary.
Testing provides your team’s point person with opportunities to bring important stakeholders into the process at key milestones. That way, they can offer input during these critical and relevant points rather than at the end, avoiding delays and the reworking of elements, sections, or pages. Stakeholders such as department heads, program managers, leadership, and board members can check to be sure the information that’s important to them is present. They can also review forms and other necessary interactions are available and work as expected.
We cannot overstate the importance of bringing in stakeholders on their specific portions of the site as early in the process as possible. Doing so provides them with an opening to supply feedback during the development cycle so that it doesn’t get lost among site-wide input. Bringing in these stakeholders also helps our team, and yours, identify improvements or additional features for a future phase.
As we’ve written before, social impact leaders are best served by avoiding the dangers of chasing website perfection, and instead, thinking of their site as an iterative, ever-evolving center of your digital and brand strategy. Bringing key people into the process is one strategy to accomplish your goals while sticking to your launch schedule.
Beyond Mockups and Prototypes
The static mockups and early prototypes we use to design a digital hub don't ever fully capture the interactive experience. This is especially true when it comes to mobile and responsive design. By demonstrating pages and components as we build them, we can test interactions that aren’t entirely clear in static designs. It’s vital for us to get user feedback early in the process on exceptionally interactive sites, so that we can address any challenges we encounter well before launch.
Our process also allows us to test functional prototypes and third-party integrations as well as other functions that are especially difficult to convey in static mockups. Having interactive prototypes also lets us look at digital accessibility with more of a real-world perspective.
Live site elements let us have more informed discussions about how engaging or delightful the experience is. It also allows people to go through the information flow to see if the information architecture and story flow are working as intended.
Our Iterative Process
We test as we build. There’s no big reveal at the end of a project where the site is ready to launch and only then do we discover misalignment in expectations around how features work.
By following our weekly sprint philosophy, we’re able to align expectations early on instead of just prior to launch. This reduces pre-launch stress as both teams have been actively involved in testing all along.
Buttoning up all of the aspects of any digital platform is a ton of work. Every element needs to be looked at for brand consistency, functionality, user experience, and more. If this process is only done at the end, it’s much more likely that something gets missed.
When performed as elements are built, it’s possible to discover problems early rather than finding something critical at the end that negatively impacts the timeline. We find that incremental testing is a much stronger way to deliver quality, ensure delight, hit milestones, and launch on schedule.
Our Collaborative Spirit Reviews
We constantly ask our clients to review work alongside us. Once we design and develop a page or an interactive experience, we conduct thorough internal testing. Then we hand it over to our clients for a test drive. Once we start developing a digital hub, we demo progress every week in our sprint meeting.
To get user feedback from our clients we utilize the Userback platform. We like Userback because it’s easy for both tech savvy and non-technical clients to give us feedback using photos, video, and written descriptions. It generates tasks for us and lets clients know when we address something they report.
Bridging Delight to a Site Launch
Over the years, our test-as-we-build approach has helped elevate multiple projects. It lets us and our clients fine-tune the user experience from strategy, functionality, engagement, and delight perspectives. Equally important, the process helps us identify and solve problems during the design and development phases. This gives both teams the ability to dial the site in and deliver the best experience at launch.
Lastly, this development strategy minimizes challenges that surface close to launch, which helps us hit milestones throughout a project and reach launch dates with little fuss, all while preventing overwhelm at the end of a project. This keeps projects from running long.
The benefits of collaborative usability testing early and often are clear. The process delivers sites in a timely fashion and lets you focus on what’s important at launch — an exciting reveal of your new platform and putting your powerful new digital tool to work to help you make the world a better place.