Design Testing to Future-proof your Web Site

Site Testing should determine if you have followed these rules:

  • Keep it Simple
  • Stick to Web conventions
  • Use semantic markup
  • Allow visitors to choose their own preferences
  • Eliminate pop ups
  • Exercise common sense

Testing Methods

Paper Mockups:

One method of testing your site design is to ask typical visitors to work through paper copies of your site.

Then, you ask the volunteer to talk-aloud as you record what they are thinking as they move through your design.

Your goal is to find confusing navigation or information chunking issues so that you can correct them.


With the checklist method, a small group of professionals search through the site to see whether it conforms with accepted principles. The set of rules that form the basis of the checklist is called a Heuristic.

This method is the most popular method of site testing, but the results are not as useful in predicting visitor reactions to the site as the Paper Mockup method.

The benefit of a checklist is to search for issues that the designers might not have thought of, however, the designers should have used the checklist themselves during the design process.

A checklist approach to site testing might include the following:

  • Content Quality: Content is...
    • Relevant
    • Attractive
    • Has appropriate depth
    • Has appropriate breadth
    • Is timely
    • Is current
  • Site is easy to use: Design communicates clear...
    • Goal
    • Structure
    • Feedback
  • Site promotes sales or return visits
  • Emotional Response: The site encourages...
  • Positive reactions
  • Interest
  • Attention
  • Appropriate pace or stress level
  • Web Stickiness: Site encourages...
    • Community
    • Personalization
    • Tailor-making of Content
    • Updatability
    • Expandability (What happens if the site is super-successful?)

Of course, different people can hold different opinions about what these terms mean. This is the reason that the Paper Mockup method should always be used.


This testing method involves setting typical visitors in front of a computer that is running a rough prototype of the site, and watching the volunteer work through the design.

This method has the visitors talk-aloud as the users and the screen in front of them are video taped.

This method is expensive, and only within the range of large-budget development projects (because of the need for the lab setup).

This method comes later than the other testing methods, and if the other methods are not used before this method, comes too late in the development process to catch some design problems.


Conduct a continuous site testing process using each testing method:

  • Paper Mockup
  • Checklist
  • Prototyping

If the budget for formal prototyping is not available, conduct the prototyping testing as if it were a “Paper Mockup Onscreen.”

Continuous, Iterative Approach

The important things about the site testing process are that:

  • The process is continuous
  • The process is iterative

Conclusion: Testing is ongoing, and important. Testing is always a “work in progress.” Corollary: Don't ever stop testing.

Design Team Testing Approach

There are benefits for designers, coders, and writers to work together on a team. This is because of how the Web is used. The issues are:

  • Most visitors scan for information, they don't read the site
  • Author's Personality: The ability for the author to be well liked and communicate credibility and trust are more important on the Web
    • This is super-important for sales
    • Pre-selling (rather than hard selling) depends upon the visitor liking the author
    • Bureaucratic stammering, risk-avoiding language and Covering One's Backside (hallmarks of corporate sites) turn visitors off
  • Visitors are impatient. They want what they want at once, and they become irritated by waiting. Visitor turn offs include:
    • Cool features (Such as Flash™ movies)
    • Self-promotion
    • Hard sell
    • Gratuitous graphics (Especially “Intro Screens”)
  • The ability to search with a search that works is important to visitors
  • Optimization for download times are critical
  • Animation = Annoying
  • Frames (even iFrames) are irritating
  • Plain backgrounds that make scanning easier are better. Hard to scan anything is despised
  • Visitors want every little, teensy, tiny thing to work on the site, and become condescending if they find errors
  • If you must use image maps (not recommended), slice the sections into smaller sections so that they load faster
  • Cheap clip art: Shun it. High quality clip are: Never use it
  • Humor: Visitors like humor. But only use humor if you know how
  • Jokes: Never use them (They are guaranteed to backfire on you)
  • Putdowns, flames, rants, diatribes: (Guaranteed to shoot yourself in the foot)
  • Self-depreciating humor: OK if sincere
  • Visitors generally don't like to scroll (never horizontally), but some sales sites do well with long vertical pages. What do you think about the length of this page?

This site contains a test concerning a long scroll on a page.

  • First, study this page and decide upon your reactions
  • Next, choose the link below, and notice your reaction to it.
  • These shorter pages are not in the normal flow of site navigation. (This is the only link to them on the site.)

Link to the same content of this page, separated into several pages.

If you come to the conclusion that Web visitors are impatient, demanding, fussy, intolerant—our answer...“You got that right!”

Here are links to more site design information on this site.