ANY user test is better than none
I just helped my 8 year old daughter set up her first Gmail account. I’m always amazed at how interesting and valuable watching someone else use a website is – even a child. Here are some things I saw: There is ALWAYS a case for plain language. Even on Gmail’s very short registration page there were terms that could have been easier to understand. For example, ‘Desired login name’ could have been ‘Email address’, ‘Re-enter’ could have been ‘Type again’, ‘Word verification’ could have been ‘Type this’. The Gmail interface relies on you knowing that navigation happens at the top and left-hand side of the screen. Background colours could have chunked this up so that when my daughter was looking for ‘New email’ she didn’t have to scan the entire page, but could have done a first scan of 3 sections. IT took her a while to find out what to click to write her first email. The button was labelled ‘Compose email’. This is another overly complicated term for writing a new email. User error is always a problem. So much of your visitor’s experience happens when they make mistakes. Often, instead of spending a lot of time and effort on the communication, this area is left to the developers. For the second time in as many weeks, I’ve watched my children spend more time on making the Gmail interface look pretty by playing with the built-in themes than they did on using the website itself. Nevertheless, she is up and running and sending emails to everyone. That, and being pursued around the garden by her bigger sister who is trying to get the scrap of paper that has her username and password written on it.