Start a Usability Testing Program in 5 Days

Posted March 23rd, 2009 by Chas Grundy

We always say we should do usability testing. We add hours into our estimates. We write it into the schedule. But we never seem to do any testing.

We have to find people, schedule them to come in, design the tests, execute the testing, analyze the results, and make recommendations for moving forward. It’s a big production, even for a low production testing process. It takes a long time and since it’s not an emergency, it’s easy to slough off and forget about until it’s too late.

We decided to try a different approach.

Weekly Testing, Whether You Need it or Not

There’s always something worth testing – the latest mockups, some wireframes, the navigation on a site, whatever.

So here’s the plan:


Call or email subjects and invite them to participate. Offer a gift card and promise that it won’t take longer than 30 minutes. The goal is to get five scheduled per week, for each Friday. Get a mix of students, staff, and faculty.


This is the best part. At our team meeting, we decide what to test. It might be a new feature or a site in design or development. Discuss how to test what we want to test. We only have 30 minutes with each person, so we have to divvy that up appropriately.

Friday morning

Do the tests. Record them (with a signed waiver, as needed). Give gift cards. Say thanks. Ask if they’d come back to do it again some time.

Friday afternoon

Get the whole team together to watch the results and discuss. We’re bringing in lunch and blocking out two hours to do this, but it all depends on how you want to work. I suspect that this will be easier and shorter as we do this more regularly.

The Actual Tests

The most intimidating part is doing the test. I suggest you go in prepared.

If you haven’t read it already, go take two hours and read Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think!. If you haven’t read it and my blog post wasn’t enough to convince you, at least check out the user testing chapters and usability script Steve has posted for free.


You can make the software side really easy by using Silverback (Mac only) for quick and cheap or Morae (Windows only) for comprehensive and pricier. If you’re looking for something cheaper for the PC, there are some cheap alternatives to Morae.

Here’s a demo I whipped up with Silverback in 5 minutes. It took longer to upload the video to YouTube than it did to download, install, and record the demo.

It’s nothing special – but it’s ridiculously easy and doesn’t take any work to set up. I guess that kinda makes it special.

Selling it to Your Boss

Don’t bother. Seriously, it’s $50. Can you get approval for a $50 piece of software? Then go buy it and just start. Call up some co-workers and folks you know. Schedule them for Friday morning. Find something to test. A website you launched last month, for all it matters. Ask some questions – even if it’s just “surf around and think out loud for me.” When you learn something, that’s when you show management. If you still need to.

The key to testing is to test. You learn a lot more testing anybody than by testing nobody. So, test early and test often. A regular testing program is like breathing – when it’s always there, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

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Chas Grundy

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