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What Do You Learn From Usability Testing?

Design Research


Normal Modes conducts a lot of usability testing. It’s what we specialize in and it’s what we love. We’ve seen nearly every variation of usability testing findings and while we are occasionally surprised, the findings we report generally fall into one of a few common patterns.

After many years of providing first-class usability services we thought it was time to share the three most common website usability problems we find: 

Common Finding 1: Navigation is usually a problem.

By far the most common finding we report to clients is issues with a site’s navigation—with either the structure or jargon being the most frequently cited causes. In fact, we report this finding so often that we have pre-made pages in our findings report templates for it! The reason this finding is so common varies greatly with both the industry and the size of the website. The two most common reason, however, are:


  1. Branding of common industry terms. Branding common industry terms tends to confuse users. For example, user will likely have more difficulty finding a water pump that listed as a super deluxe dihydrogen monoxide propeller rather than a plain old water pump.


  1. The navigational structure is not optimally organized. One of the more common mistakes we see UI designers make is to organize the site’s information according to either how they think the site should be organized or how the marketing department has organized its reference material. More often then not, we find that users’ mental models do not reflect either organization scheme.


Common Finding 2: Users want quick access to data.

Time and time again we observe that websites tend to bury their core data, or core content, under marketing hype and jargon. This almost always comes out negatively in usability testing.

Established users arrive at a website with a purpose and that purpose is almost always to get to data quickly.

The best websites we’ve seen, and the ones that tend to perform best in usability testing, are the ones that effectively guide new users to the data they seek—sometimes even helping them figure out what it is they actually seek—while providing established users quick and direct access to the content they seek.


Common Finding 3: Breadth is greater than depth.

When it comes to large data-driven websites users often report becoming lost when navigating more than two levels down. While individual differences between users’ knowledge of industry jargon sometimes plays a role, this is most often due to the cumulative cost of poor information scent.

After more than two levels down, we find that users usually abandon their current search strategy and try another—usually the search function. Therefore, if depth is required because your information architecture or industry demands it, your searching algorithms must be exceptional.



Have you noticed the theme that ties these findings together? That’s right! The three of the most common usability findings we report all relate to effort users’ are required to put forth to access the information they seek. If there is one take-away, or heuristic that we’d like to impart with this post it is this: reducing barriers to information access is always a win-win for our clients and their users.

What results do you frequently observe during usability testing? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll try to address them in turn.


Are you interesting in conducting usability testing on your website or application? Normal Modes has the experience and expertise to get you the answers you need. Learn how Normal Modes can use usability testing and other user experience methodologies to answer your user research questions today: