A few years ago I was trying to explain the concept of “fail early, fail often” to someone, and failing. (see what I did there? ;-) They didn’t understand why you just wouldn’t take longer to build it right the first time.
Now that we’re deep in the process of redesigning our website, I am starting to see the real danger in that sort of thinking. Despite all our best intentions, we’ve fallen into a trap of thrashing back and forth around certain ideas – unable to agree, unwilling to move forward until we “solve it”, and essentially stuck in the same cycle illustrated in this cartoon.
To try to help break the recent impasse on site navigation, we’re doing some simple user testing using paper prototypes of several ideas. These are meant to be rough sketches to essentially pass/fail the “do they get it?” test, but they’re also giving us a ton of valuable little hints into how people see and understand both our website and our navigation.
Our basic process so far is to ask people (non-staff) for first impressions of the top nav: does it make sense? Do they think they know what they’ll get under each button? Then we show the flyouts and see if it’s what they expected. Anything missing? Anything doesn’t meet their expectations? Finally we ask a few targeted “task” questions, like “where would you look if you wanted information about n work of art you saw in the galleries?”
Even this simple round of testing has revealed some clearly wrong assumptions on our part. By fixing these things now (failing early) and iterating quickly, we can do more prototypes and get more feedback (failing often). I’ll try to post updates as we proceed.
PS — Anyone else doing paper prototypes like this? I think we all know we’re “supposed” to do quick user testing, but honestly this is the first time in years we’ve actually done something like it.