Some experts define informal testing as a usability test conducted focus-group style in a conference room rather than a lab setting. For others, a test is informal if it relies on low-fidelity sketches rather than a slick development site. But when you’re desperate for citizen engagement and low on budget, we say, do it Boston-style.
The digital team at Boston.gov knew they needed to iterate their navigation menus. The Black Pepper team sketched new navigation options to improve usability and worked with the Boston.gov team to get the design iterations working on iPads with a 3G connection running Boston’s Wicked Free Wifi. And then we took them outside. We skipped recruitment and recruitment screening which can be costly and time consuming. We skipped set of up test computers in a lab. We even skipped the lab, which can be challenging to schedule. (The Boston.gov team does not have an in-house lab and relies on the kindness of area businesses with usability labs.) We just went outside to City Hall Plaza and asked people to help us for 5-7 minutes in exchange for t-shirts from a previous digital team event. We tested until we ran out of t-shirts and gathered enough input to choose the best navigation design from our mock ups.
This kind of testing isn’t for everyone. But when all you’ve got is a desire to test, some good ideas on paper or a tablet, and a balmy spring morning, then go for it. The result will be time well spent gathering constituent input to address your site navigation or known usability issues (and a morning out of the office chatting with citizens and tourists in the sunshine).