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If digital transformation is done correctly, there are five words the people behind such initiatives should never have to hear:

“Why doesn’t this thing work?”

The “thing” could be a mobile app offered to customers, a content management system used by employees on the back end, or something even more sophisticated. It could have been designed with the best of intentions, as part of the most well-developed business strategy imaginable. But in the end, what matters to those on the receiving end of any digital transformation effort is whether they can use technology quickly, easily, and in ways that meet their needs.

That’s why the most successful organizations ensure they not only have user experience (UX) designers to craft a vision of seamless usability, but position usability testing as a core activity in executing on that vision.

Usability Testing: The Architech Perspective

According to Meg Bortolon, Architech’s Senior UX Researcher and Designer, usability testing involves actual end-users interacting with a digital product or tool and evaluating the ease of use when completing common tasks.

Rather than simply asking someone if they like the look of a website or application, we structure usability testing around specific tasks and purposes for a user interacting with a prototype or live site. If testing a banking application, for example, tasks could include finding a checking account that meets the user’s needs, comparing credit card options, or finding a branch.

Usability testing is important because if users become confused or frustrated when trying to complete their tasks, they could look elsewhere for services, or they could end up calling customer support for simple questions that should be handled by the website, tying up agents who could be dealing with more complex problems. These points of confusion should be addressed before the site is launched - it’s a lot less costly to fix a feature that’s still being built, rather than fixing things after the fact. Additionally, all those small operational inefficiencies build up to potentially have a major impact on a company’s bottom line.

The Cost of Not Testing

Research has shown that 39 percent of people will stop engaging with a web site if its images won’t load or take too long, let alone if the experience makes it hard to complete a task.

From an internal resource perspective, another study revealed almost 50 percent of a developer’s time is spent fixing issues that could have been avoided.

Usability testing isn’t done in a vacuum, of course, but should be woven into a larger UX research plan that’s key to any digital transformation, Meg says. It’s also an area where you can discover hard data that will directly lead to tangible improvements.

Usability testing is most commonly used as a qualitative research method, especially when testing throughout Agile development. But as Meg says, "it can actually be a qualitative or quantitative research method."

At the outset of a digital transformation project, a common best practice is to establish the key performance indicators (KPIs) at the outset in order to achieve executive buy-in. Quantitative usability testing offers an opportunity to set usability benchmarks, like the time a user will spend on a task and their success/fail rate. These figures can then be reassessed with a redesigned application to show a measure of project success.

Building the Business Case and Buy-In for Usability Testing

Organizations might be tempted to push projects through without usability testing based on fears of what it might involve, but Meg suggests business leaders shouldn’t worry as long as they work with the right partner.

Companies like Architech that use Agile and DesignOps methodologies, for example, make use of a “tri-track” approach, in which design and development activities can happen in tandem with research like usability testing. This prevents the latter from becoming a drag on schedules or meeting deadlines.

Image by InVison and Dave Malouf

The biggest hurdle is usually recruiting testers. While the pool of representative users doesn’t have to be huge, Meg notes they can be more challenging to attract if they need to have specialized backgrounds (like finding physicians to test a health-care application, for instance). Again, Meg says the right partner will help identify services and tools to make recruitment easier.

More important than anything else, usability testing needs to become part of the culture of digital transformation, Meg adds, where organizations not only embrace it, but commit to seeing it through.

“You need to be comfortable with change, and being comfortable with redesigning based on what you learn through usability testing,” she says. “It does benefit you in the long run.”

To learn more about how to maximize value through usability testing when building world class solutions, email us at

Meg Bortolon
Senior UX Researcher & Designer

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