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Comment: auditing your digital user experience

A more robust approach to testing your digital systems is a worthwhile endeavor.

The last two years have seen varied quality in the digital experiences offered by traditional incumbent mortgage brokers and the new breed of digital-first challengers. Leaving aside for now the wider questions around robo- and AI-driven advice, these new challengers have generally made it easier for user to input and source information in clean user experiences.

The question of why so many incumbent brokers are falling behind, and how they can catch up without having a deep budget is a compelling one.

A common theme when speaking with challenger companies is how they have fully embraced modern user experience design processes. These are new ways of working that any organisation can adopt with little financial cost if an agile mindset is embraced.

I recommend the first step for all organisations looking to improve their digital user experiences is to run a usability test with actual customers.

In the old world of website design and IT project delivery the process was fundamentally focussed on the opinions of people within a business and their understanding of the requirements. Similarly, designs and prototypes would be tested within the team (and sometimes with friends and family for a second opinion). This enabled personal biases and assumptions to drive digital project delivery. Running a usability test in a controlled environment, with your real users, can often blow those assumptions out of the water and be a real eye-opener.

When speaking at a recent mortgage technology conference I asked the audience: “when was the last time you tested your digital user experience with your actual users?” Very few hands were raised.

There are a number of different methods for performing usability testing, the most common method of which is to set up a one-day, lab-based usability test. Lab-based user testing is a ‘qualitative’ research method, used to gauge how easy and intuitive a product is to use and to determine what your users actually do, rather than what they say they do.

Typically, six users are invited in for a one hour slot each (for which they are normally paid). They are set a number of tasks on the website that you define for the facilitator in advance. The facilitator explains the task to the user and then stays quiet and watches the user attempt to complete this task. Lab hire, facilitation and user incentives typically cost around £2,500.

If a user gets stuck the facilitator asks why, and it is often at these moments that critical piece of information are found. In addition to being able to view the sessions live in an adjacent room, these sessions are recorded (both the screen, webcam and audio). Clips of key moments can then be shared in internal meetings with other project stakeholders and can be really useful at cutting through the politics and personal views within a project. This process can be even more powerful when applied to the design and prototyping stages of a new project, enabling you to get feedback from real users before anything is actually built.

As an alternative to lab-based usability testing, “guerrilla” user testing is a low-cost method of user testing. The term ‘guerrilla’ refers to its ‘out in the wild’ style. This method of user testing can be conducted anywhere e.g. in a cafe, library, or train station. Essentially anywhere where there is significant footfall.

The principle and process is similar to lab-based user testing, however, follows a more DIY approach, with a member of your team running the test on a laptop in place of the facilitator. A piece of software called “Silverback” (which costs £29) can be loaded on to any Mac laptop to set up the tasks and record the session.

While this approach doesn’t deliver all of the benefits of a lab-based usability test, it is a great place to start on a tight budget.

Mark Lusted is managing director of Dock9

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