Success in user testing

My colleagues in Boston ran some users through the Wired News design prototypes this week. While we were fairly confident that many of the usability problems of the old design had been addressed, we wanted to make sure there weren’t any glaring errors that we hadn’t addressed yet. We wanted a test a competitor at the same time to help give us a comparison, so users were asked to run through the same tasks on C|net’s

Test sessions revealed only minor issues with the site, some of which were fixed in mid-flight or between tests. One change was made immediately after the pilot session, in which the user had a difficult time interpreting the meaning of our story tools icon system (print version, email this story to a friend, sync this story to your pda). Initially, those tools were represented only by icon images. The only text-based indication of their function was hidden within the tool tip produced from the images’ <title> attribute. The tool tip only pops up in certain browsers, and only when the user moves the pointer on top of the image. By adding a small text label next to the icon, those story tools were immediately recognized and located by successive users without problem.

All the users rated the new Wired News design as easier to use and navigate than Interestingly, some of the users also stated that C|net now seemed “bland” in comparison to the bright colors, energy, and imagery of Wired News. With the new design, we attempt to feature more imagery related to certain stories whenever possible. If a story has images associated with it, we pull one of the image thumbnails into the deck on the front door. Each image added to the front door adds file size and download time, so we need to monitor the differences, and balance the benefit of increased imagery with tradeoff of a heavier front page.