After 20 years working as a designer and ten years as a creative director I have learned the importance of testing every step of a design process and it never stops to surprise me how often designs that I personally find really strong, about half of the times when performing usability- and perception tests, reveals serious problems. What I have come to learn from this is the importance of testing every major iteration of a design on an unbiased audience and never let my subjective opinion solely drive conclusions about a design.
What makes up as beautiful, modern, ugly or great looking design is highly subjective and a consequence of the observer’s previous life experiences, national and social culture. This is also being expressed by both Geert Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 2017) and in Stuart Halls model of encoding and decoding (Hall, 1973); two theories that has formed the basis for much of modern communication principles.
The fact that any design will be perceived according to the viewers model of perception, commercial and applied design always need to be tested on the target audience and a design process based on a complete testing workflow consists of six different types of tests:
- Functional tests
- Perception tests
- Usability tests (web)
- A/B testing (web)
- Automatic testing (web)
- Unit testing (web)
With functional, perception and usability tests being the most relevant for graphic designers, in the following sections, I describe why and how they are used and also present live examples of tests performed during the development of a campaign concept for the London Royal Opera.
A/B testing, automatic testing, and unit testing will be discussed in a separate post as these tests mainly is performed by developers and dedicated testing teams.
The purpose of a functional test is to make sure that the core message of a visual, such as an advert or a poster, is understood by the target audience. A functional test is performed by first displaying a design to the representatives of the target audience which then is followed up by a set of questions. On the link below a functional test of an advert for the London Opera House is presented which were performed through Usability Hub:
While a functional test aims to answer whether a design is “functional” and understood or not, the purpose of a preference test is to get unbiased input from the target audience about their thoughts about a design. Even though not as important as functional tests, preference tests is an important tool to understand how a design is perceived by its target audience.
On the link below a preference test of an advert for the London Opera House is presented which were performed through Usability Hub:
Just think of the last time when couldn’t find important information on a government website or had a problem to book or change a hotel- or flight booking and the frustration you felt. The web is simply full of beautiful but totally useless websites and the reason to this is that many designers do not care to test their work.
When working in the domain of web design, testing is even more important than in print. Web visitor has very little patience with websites that not instantly fulfil their needs and wants, and if a web visitor has trouble finding information or to perform a vital task in the UX, like paying for a product or booking a hotel room, it is likely that the visitor will leave the site. The problem as a designer when creating web interfaces and user experiences are that both you, your team and the client during a design process which sometimes can involve months of development work develop a deep understanding of both content architecture and functionality. A website visitor, on the other hand, does not have this insight and need to grasp the UX in a matter of seconds.
Usability tests like functional tests are performed to make sure that a design is functional. The main difference is that functional design tests usually are performed on static visuals such as adverts while usability tests commonly are used for evaluating that the UX of a web-design works as intended. Usability tests also are much more in-depth than functional tests and usually are built around a number of related tasks such as searching for specific information or buying products.
On the link below a recorded usability test on a campaign website for the London Royal Opera is presented.
- Hofstede, Geert. Geert-hofstede.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 June 2017.
- Hall, Stuart. Stuart Halls Model Of Encoding And Decoding. 1st ed. 1973. Web. 5 June 2017.