DonnaM » Blog Archive » Why I don’t offer a usability testing service

Why I don’t offer a usability testing service

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:

  1. Usability testing is easy to learn and easy to conduct. Yes, really. I’d prefer to teach a team how to do it themselves.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


7 Responses to “Why I don’t offer a usability testing service”

  1. Andrew Boyd Says:

    Hi Donna,

    this is great :)

    It is a bit like “God invented Fords so that knuckles wouldn’t drive Holdens”. Without clear ROI a lot of usability testing gets done on the back of some really fast talking – mostly it is an unnecessary embuggerance on the project and adds no real value. This in turn smokescreens the places that usability testing would be of use – we need to provide the real thing and not the shadow of the appearance of the thing.

    Brave move and well done!

    Best regards, Andrew

  2. Gary Barber Says:

    Getting people to agree to usability testing within a project is hard enough. It’s usually first to go when the time or financial budget is in peril. Adding it on at the end as separate consulting item is often as you said worthless.

    Interestingly most of the major project on this side of the country get launched without any real “usability” testing, but you know that.

  3. Bettina Walter Says:

    Hi Donna,
    Thanks for your thoughts which are extremely relevant to where my business is at.
    I have only conducted informal usability testing as part of my UX Design package but would like to expand my business for various reasons in this area. The points you raise about a standalone service are very valuable – especially the one about knowing the design context, challenges and constraints of a project.
    One exception to this would be:
    Usability testing for a redesign: testing the existing site to provide the ‘whys’ to the what the analytics say.
    Usability testing as part of a competitors analysis – to see what works for users and what doesn’t.
    As for teaching clients how to do it themselves: I cannot see my clients (Brand, Design and Marketing Agencies) conducting user testing themselves – not in the short term anyway. It does take quite a bit of confidence in the process to pull it off.
    Talk about ‘standalone testing’ have you seen this: ?

  4. admin Says:

    Thanks for your comments…

    Andrew – no Ford jokes around here ;) I do agree that much usability testing done is just an embuggerance, and I don’t want to be the consultant pulled in to be the one who delays a project and tells everyone how badly they are doing.

    Gary – yes, lots of us can pull off great work without endless (or single) rounds of usability testing.

    Bettina – your two situations are good examples of when it is worth bringing a consultant in to help. I’d probably do these pieces of work, though I think of them more as user research. But I do disagree that brand, design & marketing agencies won’t do this. I think usability testing is easy enough for them to at least be doing some quick, informal testing…but maybe I’m just to optimistic.

  5. admin Says:

    And Bettina, you certainly can offer usability testing as a service. I would just recommend you don’t go down the path of offering detailed design recommendations – unless you have lots of design experience (in which case you are better selling this service) or can arrange to spend a bunch of time working through the problems with the design team.

  6. Lisa Says:

    Hi Donna :)

    Interesting post :)

    You seem to be differentiating between User Research and Usability Testing, and I’m just wondering how you define them. Not looking for a text book answer ;) just curious what your thoughts are there.


  7. Donna Maurer Says:

    Hi Lisa

    Glad you picked me up on that. I think of user research as something you do early-ish in a project to help figure out what to do and how to do it. I think of usability testing as something done after some type of design work is done to check the progress/usability of that design. But the technique of usability testing can be used for user research. Does that make sense, or is it just semantic mumble?

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