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What we’ve learned in 6 months of usability testing

For a little over 6 months now the EdWeb development team has been getting together to watch staff try out EdWeb in a regular, systematic fashion and sharing our findings via the project wiki. This post is a quick reflection on how far we’ve come.

Bruce and I switched roles on the EdWeb project last summer. In taking on the UX Lead role, I was determined to get the team closer to end users of the system on a regular basis and to increase our shared understanding of what they thought of our development work.

So since September, every development iteration, as many of the team as possible have sat down together for a couple of hours or so and watched 3 colleagues try to do stuff with the new system. (I’ve already covered the methodology in detail in an earlier post, and demoed it at an open event so I’ll not repeat it here.)

Previous post about how we run agile usability testing

What we’ve tested

Every development iteration, we’ve agreed a focus for testing which has typically been an aspect of the system or a common task CMS users need to do.

These have been:

  • CMS search and dashboard
  • The basic page creation process
  • Text editing and formatting
  • Homepage management
  • Overview page management
  • Image and document upload

You’re welcome to take a look at our test scripts, who has participated, the issues we’ve observed and how we’ve prioritised them (if you have a University login).

Log of usability test sessions and prioritised issues on the EdWeb project wiki (EASE login required)

Some takeaways from this experience

  • Interest in the user experience among the team needs momentum. Everyone is busy and there are stressful periods when some team members have other commitments they need to prioritise. Keep pushing to get everyone some exposure to end users, however small.
  • We make better collective decisions around design and prioritisation when we observe together. Watching video footage or reading a report in isolation later is not the same. Things that happened come up in conversations weeks and months later among those that were there.
  • The process saves us money. It’s not all about finding new problems we need to fix and making more work for ourselves. Sometimes we focus on something we think is a problem and find that actually it’s ok. Or at least good enough to leave as is and focus our resources elsewhere.
  • It’s fun. Without fail, it’s highlighted as a positive in our end of iteration meetings. The observations and issue prioritisation are relaxed affairs (except for me, as I’m the one doing all the real work!)
  • We couldn’t do it without the support of staff across the University, who volunteer their time to participate. There are so many colleagues up for this, participant recruitment is really easy. (Every project developing internal systems should do what we do; there’s no excuse frankly.)

So to everyone who has participated in our usability sessions, or has volunteered, or continues to volunteer month in month out: thank you. You’re doing a great service both to the EdWeb development team and to everyone who ultimately uses the new University CMS.

If you want to participate in future usability testing and haven’t previously filled out our survey, drop me a line.

My contact details on the Website Programme website


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