Hi, I'm Dave Mulder. This is my website, where I write about user experience and product design.

Originally Published: July 26, 2010

Feedback is the cornerstone for improving UX

You have a website. And you want to know how to get more readers, more hits, more sales, more  conversions, or more of whatever it is you define success by.

How do you make your website better?

You could put together a budget and get bids from web designers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, as your site should be getting better from design to design. But that stepwise improvement function means you’re missing out on continuous gain between design releases.

The sweet spot in user experience is to always be moving toward something better, and the best way to get started on that path is through feedback.

Feedback (usability testing) comes from watching people use your website and competing websites. Watching people use these sites gives you a direct pipeline into the perspective of your customers. You get a truckload of insight.

How often should you seek feedback?

Jared Spool says that a few consecutive hours every six weeks is a reasonable threshold. Any less frequently and you’re probably going to forget what you learned.

If that sounds like a lot of work, you’re not alone. Many businesses still skip the usability testing phase (even though it’s a huge benefit) and those that include testing do it as often as every major release. You’re not tapping into longitudinal insight by testing infrequently.

The stepwise redesign function (picture above) is a classic model, but you’re not getting gains between launches. The alternative is constant improvement. Constant improvement is an ideal we should aspire to, and feedback is a vital part of that process.

Don’t outsource your usability testing

And don’t outsource your feedback either. Paying a lab to conduct tests and generate a usability report is like watching only the climax and epilogue of a movie: You know how it ends but missed how it got there.

If you hire a usability consultant, make sure she’s just there to assist in setting up the testing. You NEED to see with your own eyes and you will want to be able to ask your own questions. You will gain perspectives that can help with much more than only your website.

How to get started with feedback

You don’t need to hire a user experience research consultant (though my e-mail inbox is open if you’d like to). Here are some simple building blocks:

  • Add a contact form to your website and a link asking for suggestions. (But don’t assume that all the suggestions are necessary).
  • Install analytics software to your website (don’t forget your privacy policy).
  • Recruit people (not in your office) to use your website for a few minutes. Ask questions in real-time as they use your site.
  • Recruit folks who are actively using your website by inviting them to share their screen with you (this is remote testing … which I’ll talk about in the future).