Christine Perfetti: Bringing Usability Testing to Your Business


By Marli Mesibov

Christine Perfetti is a name you may recognize. You may have read about Heather O’Neill’s experiences at Perfetti Media’s Usability Bootcamp, or attended one of her workshops. Maybe you heard her speak at Refresh Boston. Or you may have attended a Boston User Experience Social Hour hosted by Perfetti Media.

Christine Perfetti, founder of Perfetti Media, holds an exceptional place in the world of UX, as she works to both provide her clients with user research and also educate them in how to run their own usability studies. Christine and I sat down to discuss the goals of user research, the hidden benefits of testing, and the questions every business wants to answer.

Marli: How do you define usability testing?

Christine: At its core, usability testing involves putting your target audience in front of your product –  website or software – and watching them work. The goal is to watch your users interact with your product in a natural way and see what about the product works (or doesn’t work) for them.

Marli: And how is that beneficial to a business?

Christine: Most importantly, it allows product, marketing, and design teams to make well-informed decisions about their existing and future designs, based not on speculation or surveys, but on real data about how users interact with your product. You’ll uncover users’ key tasks and better understand how to design for their needs.

Of course, usability testing is just one technique to learn about customers, but because of its unique nature – actually watching people interact with your products and designs – it’s an extremely valuable technique.  When an organization truly grasps the idea of usability testing, it is not uncommon for representatives from all areas, including senior management, to come to testing sessions to better understand their customers.

Marli: How do you get stakeholders excited about usability testing?

Christine: Fortunately, these days many more clients come to me already excited, but of course, there are many who are not.  I never try to sell these stakeholders by pitching them on “Why testing is important.” Instead, I say, “Let’s start by bringing in one person and watch them interact with the design.”

When stakeholders see a real customer use their product, there are inevitably a few “Ah-ha!” moments that literally cause jaws to drop, as something they thought was a given turns out to be untrue; they learn new and surprising things about their products and the people who use them.  After that, the idea of usability testing sells itself.

Marli: You’ve been working in the User Experience field for a number of years. How has it changed in that time?

Christine: Ten years ago, I would spend the majority of my time trying to convince teams of the importance of user research and usability testing. These days, most people already understand that they don’t know everything about the users’ needs.

Another major development is that more teams are taking advantage of quick-and-dirty usability testing methods. In the past year, I’ve been spending the bulk of my time working with startups to incorporate user research into their processes. Most startups have very limited time, money, and resources for usability testing, so it’s important that they have quick and cheap methods to gather information from their users.

For example, one of the techniques I share with teams is the 5 Second Test. This is an easy-to-implement technique that involves showing users a single content page for only 5 seconds to gather their initial impressions of the page. It’s a great method for getting quick feedback on whether your content pages communicate their intended value to users. I first wrote about this topic years ago while working at User Interface Engineering and continue to recommend the technique to clients. (Check out Christine’s article on 5-Second Tests.)

Many teams now realize that usability testing is something they can incorporate into their design process right away even when they don’t have a large amount of time and resources.

Marli: Do you have any examples or stories you like to share?

Christine: Last year, I had the opportunity to work with the talented product team at WebEx as they worked on the design for their new product offering, WebEx Meet. With this new offering, the team would provide a consolidated place for users to manage all of their WebEx meetings, including files, contacts, and recordings.

The product team took advantage of many different user research techniques, including focus groups, ethnographic studies, usability tests, and surveys to learn more about the users’ needs for the new product offering. The team experienced great results from testing with quick, low-fidelity prototypes, and ended up making significant changes to their product based on the information they obtained.

I like to share these types of case studies with clients to give them concrete examples of how user research and usability testing can help teams solve their design challenges. (Read more about WebEx’s user research process on Perfetti Media’s blog.)

Marli: What tips would you give these businesses, as they get started with user testing?

Christine: Just do it. I’ve been doing user testing for a while and people often ask “Does it have to be done in a certain sort of scientific way?” I say no. Some consultants will tell you it’s a complicated, process, but at its core it’s not. Simply watch your customers use your products and use the knowledge you gain to improve them.  No scientist required!


Christine Perfetti is CEO and Founding Principal of Perfetti Media. If you’ve ever met Christine, you know she’s passionate about teaching design and product teams how to tackle their problems. For more than a decade, she has taught hundreds of teams and consulted with dozens of clients on product strategy and user experience techniques.

Before launching Perfetti Media, Christine was VP & Managing Director at User Interface Engineering, a leading user research, training, and consulting firm. Christine was responsible for driving User Interface Engineering’s training and publications business. In addition, she managed UIE’s usability consultants and developed presentations and workshops taught throughout the United States and Europe.

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  • http://oncallinteractive.com Chris

    Excellent interview. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.twitter.com/marsinthestars Marli Mesibov

    I had a great time talking with Christine – glad you enjoyed reading it!

  • http://www.perfettimedia.com/ Christine Perfetti

    Thanks for the feedback, Chris. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview.

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  • Jane

    When in the process is the best time to do user testing? Low fidelity could mean paper wireframes or it could mean functional website pages (with no UI in place). And should you have submit and call-to-action buttons in your intended spots?

    • http://www.perfettimedia.com/ Christine Perfetti

      Jane,

      Usability testing is valuable at all stages of the development process. As a result, I advocate iterative testing.

      I recommend that my clients test early design ideas with paper prototypes. As the fidelity of the prototypes evolve, the best teams conduct ongoing testing throughout their process.

      As for submit and call-to-action buttons, you can determine what works best for your users by testing your design approach and button placement with them. (There is no one-size-fits-all guideline to answer this question.)