Conducting, presenting, and delivering great usability reviews

By Hunter Reid

A usability review is when you go through a digital property (website, app, etc) and document areas of concerns and opportunities. It's a great way to start any UX project because it allows us to immerse ourselves into the experience to really start understanding it and how you can make it better.

Usability reviews are also key to starting a successful relationship with our business stakeholders. Why? Because it's when we start critiquing someone else' work for the first time. Depending on the culture you're walking in to, your evaluation may be completely welcomed or met with a great deal of resistance and you don't typically know which one it is until you're right in the thick of it. How a review is conducted, presented, discussed, and shared is going to be key to a successful relationship.

Know that a usability review will ultimately help you forge the right relationships with marketing, IT, and other key stakeholders of your cross-functional team. Understand it to be a key part of the work process and an introduction to who you are that signals to others how the rest of the project will go.

In this 3 part article I will provide tips on how to conduct, present, and deliver a usability review.

Part 1: Conducting a usability review

When conducting an assessment, it's important to start with the right mindset. It's really fun to dive in and start deconstructing experiences but remember this is other people's work and ultimately you do not know who is in the room when this is presented or shared, so be careful to critique but not criticize and always have strong rationale for your critiques. "I think this is the ugliest thing i've ever seen, who the heck thought this was a good idea?!" will just not fly. Be considerate in how you conduct and document your findings. I like to start with the assumption (and granted it is an assumption) that everyone who worked on an experience before me, meant well. We've all been there where we start with an amazing experience and then along the way reviews, constraints, timing, life happens and the experience ends up not being what we expected it to be. Take that into account and it will not only help you stay unbias, it will underscore to your business stakeholders that you are a professional, who is not there to trample on other people's work but to partner with them to make it better.

Get ready to conduct a usability review

Before starting on the actual assesment I find it worth while to think about and plan how I plan to document my findings. Assessments can produce a massive amount of information, which can become overwhelming. Not only do you have to identify the area of opportunity, bring it down to its essence (so folks actually read your document), many times you have to present the data in multiple ways to help tell the full story. Because of this it’s important that you document it in a way that’s organized, digestible, and manageable from the very beginning. So before diving into and conducting a review, let’s talk about the tools we’ll need to use.

I’ve documented using a variation of at least a dozen different set of tools in the past including inDesign, PowerPoint, Axure but my most recent go-to is a combination of SnagIt + Google Drive + Google Slides.

For desktop reviews, SnagIt makes it easy to capture images or videos which I then save to Google Drive (incase I need to access the originals in the future). The documentation is done using Google Slides. Setting up Slides in a 16:9 format takes it from a presentation tool to a rather flexible documentation for your reviews. The co-authoring feature is perfect to split the work among team members.

Conduct a usability review

Typically a usability review includes a heuristic assessment. A heuristic is more generalized (holistic) approach to reviewing an experience against best practices. It's grounded on your expertise in the field of experience design and fundamentals of good usability. Heuristics tend to be a broad approach and I often couple it with scenario-based reviews to make it a more focused exercise. These reviews help you get in the mindset of the user-base you are trying to help and ensure you have a more focused approach to the review. With scenarios you are identifying a goal and trying to accomplish it, coupled with heuristics you are able to identify areas where you are stopped or unable to accomplish the goal.

  • Identify the scenario (with your business stakeholder)
  • Go through the web site or app
  • Take screenshots of what you saw (or a video to showcase a problem with an interaction or animation)
  • Document what it may mean (usability concern)
  • Add recommendation/analysis (ideas on how to solve it)
Example of a document to conduct a usability review.

Analyze your findings

Some web sites or apps are straightforward and will do with a straight heuristic assessments, others are large or really complex and the information may need to be sliced in multiple ways to make sense of it or make it more actionable. For example, I once did an analysis on a large transaction-heavy web application for managing insurance claims. There were lots of usability issues, some were related to the interface, others had to do how we onboarded (or did not onboard people). Once we provided the findings in context of the screen we also categorized them based on larger themes like “onboarding” “in-context help” “error feedback”, what we are doing well, what needs to be improved. This helped us think of solution across the experience and communicate the larger patterns to our leadership.

My preference is to analyze and add recommendation as I go through the experience, then go back to see if there’s larger themes or if the recommendation needs to change based on other findings.

Usability reviews are a key tool to any UX process, documenting successfully is a key part in diving into usability problems and the first step in providing a key deliverable to your clients. Next time we'll tackle how to present usability reviews.

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