We seem to end up working with a lot of different digital design agencies in spite of the fact that, most of the time, we get appointed by the client. Our experience is that many agencies do not include usability testing as a matter of course, and anyway clients like the idea that their redesigned web site or app is tested by a specialist third party who can ‘user check’ what the agency has produced. Inevitably agencies tend to suffer from the ‘invested effort’ problem i.e. they have spent a lot of time developing something and are sure they have a great solution for the client’s particular problems. However, usability testing can often flag up that those great solutions are not always that great!
So we see lots of agencies and how they go about developing websites. While some don’t user test as a matter of course because “the client won’t pay for it”, what has surprised me recently with a couple of agencies we have worked alongside (including one household name) is that their way of developing sites actually precludes testing at the most sensible stage – i.e. early in the process. We recommend testing at wireframe stage – and certainly before any coding is undertaken. However, these agencies were developing sites by building templates and components – but without populating these with any content. Clearly this makes the templates impossible to test with users. In both these cases we managed to persuade the client of the need to do early stage user testing, and then the agencies did add illustrative content to key user journeys. Surprise, surprise there were, in both cases, quite significant usability issues that we caught at an early stage.
Within the UX circles we inhabit it is taken for granted that user testing early is vital as it saves money and shortens development cycles http://www.webusability.co.uk/blog/usability-testing/user-test-early/, but clearly this philosophy has still not made it through to at least some in the digital world .