Is Usability Becoming a Commodity?
In the past several weeks, there’s been a lot of buzz about measuring usability and user experience. A recent posting on the Site Point blog, provided suggestions about "5 Ways to Get Usability Testing on the Cheap". I appreciate that the author prefaces his post by saying that the proposed solutions "...might not be quite as good, but they won’t hurt your pocketbook nearly as much." It’s important to set up the expectation that just as you won’t be able to make a jaguar out of a Siamese kitten, these low cost alternatives will provide you with decent feedback, but they aren’t as robust as what traditional user testing experience provides.
Products such as Silverback, UserTesting.com, Feedback Army, and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, among others, offer a range of services that span from text-based surveys and written questionnaires all the way to video reports of users talking their way through their interaction with your website and recording user interactions via facial reactions, screen clicks and other such navigational behaviors.
In looking at usability testing, the available alternatives can be roughly broken out into: 1. Classical testing by experts in the field who are specialized in evaluating user behaviors and developing customized solutions based on their client’s requirements. 2. Analysis via tools such as Google Analytics and Site Meter 3. Low cost solutions such as those mentioned above.
Having a wide selection of tools to choose from is ideal, rather than being forced to purchase services that may not necessarily be suitable for your web project. Some of these low cost solutions are a perfect way to gain a snapshot of how a site or specific application is functioning.
However, low cost options shouldn’t necessarily be considered a full replacement for user experience analysis for large-scale websites or those sites requiring complex interactions. For these, it is still recommended to "consult a licensed professional".