Archive for the ‘prototyping’ Tag

Prototyping with your CMS

We use the open-source content management system Plone to build our site, and have been very pleased with how powerful and user-friendly it is. In the process of redesigning our site, we’ve conducted wireframe tests and settled on our visual design and information architecture. Now we want to build a more advanced prototype, to test how this design will really look and feel in a browser.

To do this, we set up a copy of our Plone site on another server so we’d have one that we could freely modify and change for testing purposes. The final result ends up feeling very much like we think the redesigned site will feel, but we still have a ton of flexibility to move things around, change what doesn’t work, and correct problems where our users get stuck.

Does anyone else use their CMS as an advanced prototyping tool?

Recruiting Research Participants

Finding enough participants for your research can be tough. Professional recruiting agencies charge upwards of $107 for each usability test participant. On top of that, you need to provide an incentive to the participants themselves. That can get steep even for a lot of large companies.

So how do you recruit participants yourself? It depends on what you’re trying to find out and how you’re going to do it.

For our initial surveys, card sorts, and interviews we wanted to gather information from our existing user base. The goal for this phase was finding out who our actual users are and what they’re interested in. We reached out to our site’s registered users and our recent customers and invited them to participate. (Make sure you follow CAN-SPAM law).

After we have a solid understanding of our audience, we can design our basic prototypes. These are sets of lo-fi drawings or sketches that demonstrate how the navigation will look, where the basic page elements will go, and what the content organization will be like. To test these prototypes, we don’t really need to use participants from our existing or even potential user base. What we’re testing is that the infrastructure of the design itself works well for a general audience. So how do you find those participants? We’ve reached out to our local library and formed a partnership to conduct user testing at the branch down the street. You may have existing relationships with the community that you can leverage for this purpose. If all else fails, this is a stage where you can test on your co-workers with the least danger of introducing organizational bias into the data.

If it’s easy for you to get participants from your target audience, or if your site is aimed exclusively at a very specific group of users then by all means recruit those users for basic prototype testing. But most organizations will want to limit the amount of times they reach out to the same group of existing users and ask them for something.

Once you’ve ironed out all the problems uncovered during basic prototype testing, you can fill in the blanks and make your advanced prototypes. These prototypes are reasonable approximations of the final design, so you’ll want to find participants from your target audience. Try reaching out to other groups and organizations in the same field to recruit.

In general, I think non-profits have an advantage when recruiting participants because you’re appealing to their desire to help a good cause. It increases the likelyhood that people and organizations will assist you and reduces their expectations for material rewards. Make sure not to abuse that goodwill and that the groups that help you get something out of the deal as well.