With a myriad of articles appearing revolving around the theme of usability and user experience, designers have been challenged to look at their websites and creations in a new light. Through this, some have changed their websites, and some have shrugged things off. Still, what remains is that the role of usability and user experience in our designs is important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

So then, there seems to be a separation in designers on how seriously they take usability. Some of us have been testing usability and user experience without knowing it already, and some of us have recently added usability testing to our arsenal.

But with more “inexpensive” tools popping up that provide us with quantitative analysis, some designers are taking the lazy route and testing only after their website goes live. So the question stands, can we test usability before our project goes live? Why is it important? And, most importantly: how can we test before launch?

Note: For all intents and purposes in this article when referring to usability and user experience, we will call it “usability” (although they are both very different things).

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Can We Test Before Launch?

Most of us have likely heard of the acronym TETO – that is, Test Early, Test Often. This term applies not only until after launch, but pre launch. What I find with freelancers today is that we end up designing the initial website for the client, and that is wrong. We must design for the user, and therefore bring the user into the process.

We can also test without having a website already launched (e.g. for clients wanting to create their first web presence), and we’ve outlined those methods below!

Testing after launch is ineffective. By this time, you may have lost potential revenue, and lost a chance at building a relationship with a user. Sure, after launch we can get some nice real-time data through websites like CrazyEgg and ClickTale, but this can possibly waste our time in launching the product. Instead, testing before launch can save us tons of time by deducing whether our creations are in line with the user’s needs and wants.

What We Need To Test Before Launch

Here’s a checklist of things we need to outline in our usability testing prior to launch:

  • The reason that the user will be coming to the website
  • To find out who the ideal user is
  • What functions the user wants – no, expects – from the website
  • The design, to ensure it is easy to understand
  • The functions and processes, to ensure they’re simple and to reduce bounces
  • Ensure consistency throughout the design and content
  • Check for bugs, including spelling mistakes
  • Test for accessibility

How Can We Do This?

While there is a myriad of testing applications to which I’ve listed a few resources of below (no need to list them again when they’ve been listed so many times before), here are a few ways we can get users involved in the process:

  • Have a focus group with already-loyal users on what they want from the website
  • Have a focus group with potential users within the niche as to what they want from the website
  • Send prototypes to these users and either track them via remote testing (with tools like Usabilla), or bring them in and test them (possibly using a nice Mac tool like Silverback)
  • (If this is a redesign/realign) Use analytics software to generate quantitative analysis based on the current design


We’ve also got an big post outlining some other usability applications coming next week on UX Booth. We’ll make sure it’s placed here when it goes live!

How to Convince Your Clients to Spend the Extra Time and Money on Usability Testing

While this will definitely be a topic discussed in a later article, here are a few ways you can convince your clients to spend the extra money (for your time, of course) for testing usability prior to launch:

  • Will improve client loyalty and satisfaction
  • In turn, will increase sales by simplifying site processes
  • Ensure that the direction of the business is effective on it’s niche
  • Will improve the design and functionality
  • Will improve SEO

It’s Your Turn

Why do you think bringing users in on the process before launch is important? What other ways can you do this, and what ways have you found effective? How do you convince your clients that usability testing before launch is important? Share your responses in the comments section, below!

  • Just ask the Google Buzz team why bringing in *real* users before launch is important. If they had observed real people – that is, people from outside Google – using the service before launch, they would have got a preview of the fall out that they’re having to manage now. It could have been fixed pre-launch and we could all be talking about how Canada is going to take the gold in curling, instead.

    By the way, I’ve found that one-on-one sessions with users are better than focus groups. These are opportunities to watch people do their own tasks and reach their own goals. Ideally, you want to do this wherever they would normally do it, rather than a lab, too. Get the whole design team to observe! That way everyone owns that intellectual property. And it’s fun, too.

    Good luck,

    • James Costa

      Dana! Thanks so much for your comments and suggestions, they’re very much appreciated.

  • Hi James,

    Great article – It’s good to see more of a focus on usability these days!

    We’ve recently launched a service at intuitionhq.com, which is really useful for pre-launch testing, and also helps to keep the client in the loop, making it much easier to add the billing on too – this way they can understand the value that the testing brings, and have more of an idea about the design process – why things are where they are.

    If you are interested in trying out the service, flick me an email and I can set you up with a free test too.



    • James Costa

      Awesome, Jacob! Looks like a great product. I’ll definitely be keeping your name and information on file for the future if/when I write another article listing usability applications.

      Best to you!

  • Hi James,

    Great article, always is good to give usability the importance they deserve, i really wait for the continue of this post about “How to Convince Your Clients to Spend the Extra Time and Money on Usability Testing”, because this is the really hard thing to do.

    Keep it this way.


  • nice post. thanks.

  • Well put. There’s a tendency on our end to get excited at a new design, to develop all of the bells & whistles, integrate the content, test and launch but all the while leaving the user out or the process. It begs the question: then what’s the point? If we’re not building with and for users then the true purpose of the site is lost.

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  • James Costa

    Hey Bractus! Yeah, Silverback is a very nice application if you have a Mac environment. The only reason I don’t like it is because your users need to be using a Mac. Depending on your demographic, this might not be that good (especially if only 30% of your users are browsing your website/application on a Mac).

    Your product looks pretty good – even after it’s launch, testing usability is always important. If you ever need any help with usability, please feel free to contact us!

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  • Pretty much well put up article. Liked it quite much. Thanks a lot for bring this up.
    Cheers mate.

  • I enjoyed your article with its important emphasis on user experience, but I don’t agree with your recommendation to use focus groups. Focus groups are a poor way to get inside users’ heads and discover what they want. For example, see this article: http://www.userfocus.co.uk/articles/focuspocus.html

    • James Costa

      Hey David! Happy to have you comment, and do appreciate it. For myself, focus groups have proved worth me and my team’s time for finding out what users want as an initial and (in some cases) inexpensive (time and money) investment.

      Usability is always a funny topic – it will work better in different ways for different groups, on different projects. While I’m sad it hasent worked for most, it has certainly had a good outcome for me. 🙂

  • Good article. Just embarking on a new project and I shall definitely be considering the bit about using loyal customers to help mould the site. And the potential customers too – perhaps more important since my client is not dealing with them already.

    I’m glad you mentioned accessibility – albeit only in one place. This is an oft-overlooked area that can make such a difference.

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  • Hey James, great post! You can probably infer that this topic has been swimming around in my head for quite a while given my recent post on UX Booth. If you haven’t already, I would recommend giving Indi’s book on Mental Models a read. In it, Indi explains her way of methodically approaching the design and development of products and websites. Not that I agree with her entirely––hers is a time-intensive and costly process––but I think it adds yet another perspective on the matter.

    For what it’s worth, this is why prototyping in almost standard practice in our industry. Even though every project is different, as long as we’re iterative and fflexible, the testing should happen as a by-product of good design instincts.

    Any way, keep up the great work, James; articles like this keep the discussion going in the right direction.

  • Thanks for the useful info, I will continue to read http://www.phuse.ca with interest

  • I enjoyed your article with its important emphasis on user experience, but I don’t agree with your recommendation to use focus groups. Focus groups are a poor way to get inside users’ heads and discover what they want. For example, see this article:

  • User experience is key and having a logical drill down for all of your pages is a very important part of user experience. This article puts a lot of thoughts into writing that I have had over the years. One element you left out is making sure users will be able to find the site. Not exactly part of user testing but this should be kept in mind throughout the process.

    Great rad.

  • rhonda gilligan

    Lots more to talk about on this topic — eye tracking, rapid prototyping, “guerrilla’ testing and more ways of getting at the answers to usability questions before build and launch.

    However, it should always be noted that almost all testing is artificial and rarely replicates the impact on usability of real-life distractions. People “perform” when you test them and they are generally in some sort of closed environment that requires they puzzle through the task as opposed to what they do in real life at the first sign of trouble — which is bail and go somewhere else.

    I find that usability testing is a great predictor of what designs will FAIL and a not-very-accurate predictor of what will succeed.

    Here’s a couple of tips:
    1. Don’t just accept ANY success as success. If it took the user more than 4-5 clicks, if they hesitated for more than a couple of seconds, used the back button or encountered an error before ultimately succeeding, count them as a failure — they won’t hang in through all that in real life.
    2. Go back 3 months after you launch a new feature or flow and check your BI data to see how well it’s performing. Check again in 6 months. Look at what your testing predicted and see if it’s actually played out in the live environment. Be rigorous about this and you will quickly learn if your testing is providing an accurate view of success.
    3. Do not have the people who designed the UX test it. No matter how much we all like to believe we can set aside pride of authorship and remain objective for the good of the overall project, it’s almost impossible to do.
    4. Keep your test scenarios as general as possible and be careful as to how you tee-up the task. You can influence the outcome if you give away entry point info that a real-life user wouldn’t have and create false-positive results.

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