Cisco Blogs

More (and faster) Usability Testing

May 29, 2009 - 2 Comments

Earlier this year I wrote about the benefits of remote usability testing. Here on, we routinely use remote collaboration tools such as WebEx Meetings to run tests with our customers worldwide. These tools are highly effective, because they let you reach out to customers across the globe and also allows the user to view and control web site prototypes or software applications that are in your test environment (that is, you don’t have to push your test site live or make the user install your app). Your customers can help you make your web site and products better, and in turn you will make them happier. An emerging trend is fast-turnaround online usability testing. This is a way of doing more, smaller usability tests harnessing the power of the Human Network, via online services that find test participants and record video for your sessions over the Internet.This new brand of remote testing helps with one of the challenges of traditional testing: it takes time to recruit users and set up tests, so even if you’re very ambitious, you can only test functions in big “batches” a few times per month because of the recruiting times, schedule booking, etc. But, as the demand for more effective designs increases, companies need to turn around tests faster and do more of them. Traditional testing — even remote facilitated testing — though very good for in-depth studies, doesn’t scale very well all on its own.Fortunately, newly emergent on the scene are extremely inexpensive services that allow you to test multiple users quickly with a video as an output. One company, “,” offers this service for 15 minute tests at $30/person. I ran a test recently, and here is how it worked:

  • At 6 PM on Sunday, I went to their web site and posted a task: Use to find wireless for your PCs and laptops in your small business.
  • I specified Small Business as the audience, and chose some other demographic information.
  • I paid the fee for the test for two users (usually we would test with 5 to 8 users, but this was an experiment).
  • Less than two hours later I had links to two videos in my inbox that showed the users’ complete browsing experience from their desktops, and included their commentary as they went about trying to find the right router for their company. (The good news was they figured out where to go, but I will say we saw some rocks in the path that we need to clear.)

You can also use this technique as an easy way to test other sites (e.g. Cisco could test users reactions and impressions on a consumer online shopping site, for instance, if we were interested in understanding catalog browsing or checkout behavior). A few things to keep in mind:

  1. If you have a specialized user base (for instance, machine tools experts who visit your web site, or perhaps CCIEs), you will need to “recruit” these users yourself. This may be easy if you have a relationship with those customers, but it’s something to consider.
  2. While it’s easy to set up tests from a mechanical perspective, if you’re doing serious testing you want to have an expert designing your questions. This can be someone from your staff (if you have such an expert), or an outside usability consultant you work with.
  3. You still need someone to analyze the tests. If you don’t have time to watch all the videos and analyze comments, or you aren’t skilled at analyzing usability tests, you probably want to have someone knowledgeable do this part.

The recorded self-tests are just one type of user research available to you, but make a nice adjunct to facilitated WebEx sessions and other remote testing techniques.

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  1. Hi Martin, You can also check out We provide specific recommendations in 48 hours or less from experts in web design, usability, strategy and copy. Let me know what you think! Andrew

  2. Another great usability tool to check out is Loop11. Perfect for online, unmoderated user testing of your website or even your competitors.