October 22, 2006

Usability testing: Communications Anyone?

Okay, so maybe i am on some sort of sick, twisted communications rant, since i have been mentioning the subject on my blog with a fiercely progressing speed. However, i related usability testing to communications. Let me first say though that i do agree with Karissa's relation of the subject to a draft. I am also a writer. My mind won't let me forget this fact.

Maybe it was just the first line of Dr. Jerz's article that kept communications on my mind the entire way through.

"The first rule of writing is "know your audience.""

As a communications professional, it is imperative to "know your audience." Not knowing can lead to a misdirected campaign, resulting in unwanted results or no results at all. This same rule, as Dr. Jerz states, relates to writing as well. The tie-ins here are obvious: Writing is a form of communication, thus (probably) the reason the "rules' coincide so much.

Usability testing reminds me of the background/secondary and primary research stages of a communications campaign. Within the background or secondary stage, one collects information about their target audience from other sources, other people, etc. Within the primary research stage, one collects information directly from the audience themselves. There are various ways this technique may be applied. There are surveys and such, for example, and also various sorts of "focus groups" where information is collected from a small segment of a perceived target audience. Usability testing seems like it could be applied to communications as one of the research techniques. Really, for a program or product, the only way to relay information is to test out the product.

However, when Dr. Jerz discusses usability testing, he is talking about the testing happening from the very first time a website is produced. It seems as though he is saying a website should be "tested" after each revision. As a writer, journalist, and communications professional, i understand. It is key in making sure you are communicating with the public or a specified audience.

Within communications, i see the technique being applied more to something that is already in existence. For instance, somebody wants to revamp their website, okay, let's make it into a campaign goal. One of the ways to research a better website would be to have target audiences interact with what is already present. I suppose though, if the campaign goal was to expand the customer base, buidling a website may be one of the objectives, which would then be tested to determine how effective it is.

Ultimately, usability testing is a great idea, and a tactic i feel i am already familiar with (at least, with learning about it.) I think though, like any communications tactic, usability testing must be circumstantial to the audience, the goal, the rough objectives, etc. In order for usability testing to work, it must be applied in the right atmosphere, with all the right surrounding circumstances.

Posted by Lori Rupert at October 22, 2006 10:41 PM
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