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Is Gold Hidden in the Detail? – A Few Secrets on How Usability Testing can make You spot It

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21 October 2010

We continue our rotating Startupbootcamp blog series.  This entry is by Johan Frederik Schjødt, Co-founder of AutoUncle.


We thought our product was clear, valuable and relevant to most people: An algorithm that finds the best deals in the used car market (www.autouncle.com). Not so! User testing made us realize that real users find it hard to understand the value of the product. We learned that the key to communicating the value is hidden in the details. Here is how we are trying to bring out the value.

The Rocky Road of User Testing

Throughout the process of developing our demo we have talked to potential users to collect feedback and ideas about how to design the site. When we showed our first wireframes (build using www.mockflow.com),  we got responses like – “I think this looks like something for entering water measurements”, “Is it about music? (probably an association stemming from the presence of sliders)” – not the most encouraging feedback when you are building a site for used cars. This was first indication of the rocky road of user testing lying ahead of us.

Learning the Importance of Details

1 month down the road and we were ready to present a live demo. Our excitement of having a live demo was soon to be replaced by frustration. This time, the users found it difficult to understand our unique appraisal of every car’s market price. However, by talking to more users we started to get a really good idea about what needed to be changed. To our surprise it was details, really important details.

In most markets, I guess you can succeed by paying attention to the core product and then care less about the surrounding elements. I’m no longer sure whether this is true for a web product. By talking to users it has become obvious that if something surrounding the core of product (our unique ratings) does not work it steals attention from the core product. Making sure that the surrounding elements of the service work as expected, is just as important as the core product.  In our case, making sure that you can search for a car by geographical location, having the right buttons and sliders for filtering the results actually comes way before our rating of the cars value…

Testing and Learning

So how did we do our user testing? It is actually quite simple. We watched Steve Krug’s excellent lecture (watch it here http://www.blip.tv/file/1557737 ) on the subject based on his book ‘The least you should do’. Basically, if you stick to the three following guidelines by Krug, you are home safe.

  1. Don’t spend time finding people who match your target group – it is not that important for user testing. You will find out that the usability problems on your site can be brought out by almost anyone
  2. Give people a defined task on the website and record how they complete it with notes or video
  3. Ask them to think out loud during the exercise

If you follow these three guidelines, you will get feedback that is rich enough to cure the most serious threats to the usability of your site.


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