After almost 25 years working as a designer and 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 is the importance of testing every major iteration of a design on an unbiased audience, and to never let my subjective opinions drive conclusions.
What makes up as beautiful, modern, ugly, or great design is highly subjective and a consequence of the observer’s previous life experiences, national, and social culture. This also is suggested 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, needs to be tested on the target audience. Six of the most well-established testing methodologies include:
- 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 functional tests is to make sure that the core message of a design asset or campaign is understood as intended by the target audience.
A functional test is performed by first displaying a design to a study participant, which then is followed by a set of questions. On the link below, a functional test of an advert for the London Opera House is presented:
While a functional test aims to answer whether a design is understood, 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 testing 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:
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 a flight, and the frustration you felt when you were presented with error messages or could not find where to click. The web is full of beautiful but totally useless websites, and the reason for this is that many designers do not care to test their work.
When working with web design, testing is even more important than in print. Web visitors 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 like paying for a product or booking a hotel room, it is likely that he or she will leave. The problem as a designer when creating web interfaces and user-experiences, is that you often work with a project for months, and thereby know the UX from inside out. A website visitor—on the other hand—does not have your insights, and problems with the UX thereby immediately will come to light.
Usability tests, like functional tests, are performed to make sure that a design is functional. The main difference is that functional tests commonly 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 generally are constructed 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:
This post briefly have presented methods of testing designs and why doing so is important. As a designer, it is imperative that you get familiar with these methods, and in your workflow, implement a structure to test all your work to ensure that the outcome is functional and understood as intended.
- 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.