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Usability Testing: Why is it beneficial to test early?

Often, when I am taking usability testing session, participants ask me what would be ideal window to perform usability testing in a project. Incidentally, this is the same query I have received in the past from some clients as well, during usability testing strategy phase.

Usability testing has been integral part of design process for long now due to upfront benefits. Primarily, it provides direct user feedback which leads to deeper user insights related to design.
It is one of those rare occasions in the entire project where one has the opportunity to interact directly with users and get their feedback.

Usability testing can be carried out at any stage of design process: Initial wireframes, visual design, HTML prototype or live website/application.Also, there could be more than one round of usability testing depending on project scenario.

The best time/window to have usability testing in a project is during initial design stage due to following benefits it provides:

Quick to Iterate
Doing early testing ensures the design changes are quick to incorporate. Early design captures feedback on global, main navigation, terminologies and overall page structure.
The wireframes are still not designed in detail (or it could be just a mock up of static images linked together) and hence can  quickly be  changed based on user feedback and validation.

Less Rework
A change in design at wireframe level (initial design stage) will always be done with less effort than changing a fully developed HTML page at later development stage, and which has even the visual design incorporated by then.

Getting design right
I have mentioned in my previous blog on Business value of usability testing that early testing helps to get design right  during initial stage itself.
Simply because users provide feedback on overall design concept and information architecture at wireframe level.
These wireframes undergo modifications based on user feedback, get aligned to most of the user expectations and level and form a strong foundation for design.Majority of design issues are taken care at initial stage itself.

User Acceptance
Early testing helps in understanding acceptance level of representative users during the design process and also provides further design directions.
Once designers get confidence level on their design since has been through the initial feedback session of users, delivering the final best suited design to end users as per usability standards becomes a fairly achievable target.

Cost Effective
During initial stages, it is very cost effective to make any design iterations at wireframe level rather than making changes during later stages of development.
The cost associated to have visual design team and developers get involved for page iterations at later stages of development is thus saved.

Usability testing is a powerful technique to discover usability issues. Early inclusion of it will help to fix major usability issues during early stages, thus helping design to mature progressively.

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