A couple of weeks ago I reworked the business part of my website – I had to move it to a new host and remove some content (and it really needed some polish). So I decided not only to think about re-doing the website, but to re-think what I’m doing with my business.
One of the things I needed to sort out was the types of service I offer – I want to focus narrowly enough in my area of expertise to attract clients who I suit, without looking like so much of a specialist that good people pass over me. So of course I decided to focus on design training, IA and interaction design – these are my core offering, they are what I’m good at, and what I want to be doing right now.
So I had a page on my old website about usability testing (I’m finally getting to the point of the story). I automatically brought it over and added it to my list of services. I did it because I thought it was just something that a business like mine should offer.
But when I came to write the content, and convince you why you should hire me to help you with usability testing, things started to unravel. In writing it, I realised that I actually didn’t want to offer a usability testing service.
I thought about that some and realised why I don’t want to do standalone usability testing:
- Usability testing is easy to learn and easy to conduct. Yes, really. I’d prefer to teach a team how to do it themselves.
- Because it is so easy, it really is silly paying my rate to do usability testing. That money would be better used teaching other people to do it.
- Usability testing really should be an integral part of a user-centred process, and happen informally (and sometimes formally) throughout a project. For most projects, getting an outsider to do this means money, which means it isn’t done as often as possible. Guess what – I’d prefer to teach someone to do it themselves.
- I hate providing recommendations without knowing the design context, the challenges, the constraints of a project. I have seen too many usability test results that offer dumb, shallow recommendations that aren’t actionable because of the real constraints in a project.
- I don’t mind running a solid test and providing detailed outcomes with no recommendations; but that’s not worth me spending my time on (I’m a designer and want to design), and not worth you spending the money on.
So lots of people are going to be upset with me about that, so I will acknowledge that there are some caveats:
- Usability testing is easy, but also easy to really stuff up. But for most of the types of tests I get asked to do as a consultant (mid-cyle to pre-release basic validation testing) it is not life or death.
- If you really need to do a detailed research-style study into something, hiring a consultant can be a good investment. I’m talking about fairly shallow validation testing.
- I do believe in the value of usability testing – I’d just prefer to do it on projects where I know the design constraints and issues and where I (or my small, close team) use it to help us tweak a design.
So I now don’t offer a standalone usability testing service – and don’t feel the loss at all. But I will teach others and will test on my own projects…and I’m comfortable with that.