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Best of the Banter: Usability studies
by Donna Stryk, Moderator of the Online Ads Discussion List

Before beginning an ad campaign, it is important to completely understand your audience. Of course this includes who they are and where you can find them, but it also includes how they will interact with your site once they get there. On January 14, Brad Phillips asked the members of Online Ads for some help with a new project he was working on. Specifically, he needed to "create a 'discussion guide' to provide groups so that they can help us (Brad's company) learn about our web site interface." He was searching for resources and stories regarding other members' experiences with this topic.

According to Steven Heath, a great place to start gathering information on testing the usability of your interface is, a site run by Jakob Nielsen. Heath said to "make sure you use a company that does this as a living, not just a focus group company that has a bunch of notebooks set up in one of their rooms with standard moderator and focus group approach." He also recommended a book by Jared Spool called Web Site Usability: A Designers Guide. It is extremely important to obtain as much information as possible before designing the study. This will help insure the accuracy of the results.

Multimedia manager Kelley Mitchell informed the list that her company runs similar tests prior to the launch of any major changes on the site.

"We use a firm in Atlanta called Usability Labs," she said. "They recruit participants based on our criteria, then we give them tasks and observe, videotape, and note their actions." She also referred to Jakob Nielsen as an expert in this field, this time pointing out a book he wrote entitled Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity.

Tim Smith wrote in about a company called Customer Insites which, "Has a great reputation for usability testing and site improvements. You can visit their site at While you're there, check out the usability page. They have a list of usability resources with some information about what they do and why you should visit their sites."

Elisabeth Roche let the list members know about a company that she ran across called User Interface Engineering that can be found at This company was founded by Jared Spool and offers a lot of information including articles, public courses and a free newsletter. They are even hosting a conference on this topic in April 2000.

Shari Monnes and Lisa Wenninger both recommended Human Factors International. The company recently put on a seminar on design and usability and can be reached via their site at They also offer good information on their site. Not only do they have articles and tips for improving your site's usability; they also offer a free usability evaluation.

It seems that there are numerous resources out there to help companies evaluate their sites. The thing that stood out most in this thread was that many people regard Jakob Nielsen and Jared Spool as experts in this field. Several members mentioned their web sites and articles or books that they have written.

Even if you decide not to use an outside company to study how your audience actually uses your site, it is still important to find out this information. Kelley Mitchell mentioned that it is possible to set up your own study using video equipment and maybe even paying participants to let you study their behaviors.

You can view this thread and read each post in its entirety at

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