Ever been in this situation? You ask someone a question. They answer. Yet, something about their body language leads you to suspect something is, well… off. The fact is that is it much easier for a person to provide you with an answer they think you will want to hear than to hide their body language.
This is not to suggest that people lie. Rather, it highlights the differential in what someone speaks and what someone’s body language indicates. One is more telling than the other.
Many people who are looking to garner feedback on their website (or anything else) will put together a survey. The advent of sites like Surveymonkey and Zoomerang have made this incredibly easy. They send the survey out, the results come back, and far too often the interpretation of the survey data ascends to be their definitive answer to all questions.
To be fair, surveys have their place in user research. But for a survey to be effective, they must be done exceptionally well. The questions should not be leading, a control question must be utilized, and because opinions are so fickle, you must have enough respondents to the survey so your data has statistical validity.
More often than not, surveys are not done well, let alone exceptionally well.
As an alternative, I would recommend you recruit a minimum of five participants (people who have purchased your work, blog readers, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc.) and have them meet you at a coffee shop. Ask them to perform a scavenger hunt on your site. I’d suggest three to five different things they need to find (view a photograph, go through the purchase process on your site, view your bio, etc.). On their search for trinkets on your site, have them talk about what they are thinking, what they are looking at, and what their thought process is. Don’t help them. You want to observe the struggle as much as the success. After they find each trinket, ask follow up questions for clarification. I call these the why questions.
It’s always nice to provide token of appreciation for the participant’s time (a gift card, a calendar, etc.).
As you observe, it is important to note that you are looking for patterns. If one person struggles with a task, it’s worth noting. If the majority of your participants struggled with a task, it’s both a red flag and an opportunity to improve.
Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci put it best, “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions”. Actions speak louder than words.
The thing I love most about user experience is that I learn something new each and every time I conduct research with users. It can, at times, be humbling. But it is also amazing to probe into the thought processes people use when interacting with technology. The only way you are able to get this insight is to observe their behavior.
Actions speak louder than words.
So go recruit some participants, find a comfy booth at a coffee shop and get ready to be amazed.
Theodore (Ted) Stark is a User Experience practitioner by day and a photographer the rest of the time. Check out his photography website and follow him on twitter. Connect with him on LinkedIn to learn more about Ted’s User Experience work.