Usability assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. An easy to learn, efficient, and pleasant to use website is useful. More pragmatic than user experience (UX), usability methods always require user research; you observe a person using the website. Although usability tests require a lot of planning, small-scale methods can give you valuable insights to your website’s performance.
- X/O test: Give your user a printout of the main navigation page or a wireframe. Provide them with a scenario and a task; for example, you are an undergraduate student who needs to find a print book for an annotated bibliography. Then, tell them to circle (O) content that’s useful and cross (X) content that isn’t.
- Card Sort: Provide users with a list of page titles that you intend to link from the homepage or main navigation. Users sort these cards into groups that make sense to them. In an open sort, users define the groups. In a closed sort, you provide the groups from the existing navigation.
- First Click Testing: Similar to a standard usability test, but more focused in its results. Users sit at a computer and navigate your website given a task. You notate each link that the user clicks. You must also have a “correct path” in mind before the test.
- Desirability Study: Using a controlled vocabulary, you can gauge users’ opinions of your site’s design. Provide users with a list of words to describe a web page. The Microsoft Desirability Toolkit is a popular version, and comes with a vocabulary.
Want more? Follow Steve Krug’s guide to Do-It-Yourself Usability Testing for straightforward instructions to test on a budget. Or, read the Handbook of Usability Testing by Rubin and Chisnell for a thorough examination of methods.