Launched in 2007 by college friends David Rusenko, Dan Veltri, and Chris Fanini, San Francisco-based Weebly has been helping business owners and individuals build clean, highly-functional websites for almost a decade. Their goal from outset was to create an intuitive web development platform that allows entrepreneurs to customize and maintain their online business presence.
In July 2015, Erica Brick was brought on to lead user research for Weebly. Over the last year, she has ramped up testing sessions in tandem with new designs and features in an effort to produce an increasingly efficient, approachable platform. She recently shared some of these testing experiences with Validately.
Has user research been a part of development since Weebly’s launch?
Not officially. They hired me in July of last year, and I was the first researcher they hired. The team takes a very user-centered approach, so they had done ad hoc customer interviews prior to that, but there wasn’t anyone devoted to research until 2015.
What was the impetus for bringing on someone dedicated to user research?
The Weebly team has a huge appetite for research—they have always seen the value and need, but they didn’t always have the resources. As the design and development teams grew, however, they keenly felt the lack of user research in the development process. Fortunately, they’ve had bigger budgets in recent years, so were able to bring me on and launch an official user research program last summer.
Did you start user testing with Validately, or were you using other tools?
Not initially, but an old co-worker recommended Validately, so we started using it for moderated remote testing. Remote testing is key for us, because Weebly needs to reach a less tech-savvy demographic—one that’s hard to find in San Francisco. Many of our ideal customers are second-career entrepreneurs who are a little bit older and generally haven’t built sites before. We’ve needed to widen our recruitment to find those kinds of users.
Do you use Validately for user recruitment also?
We do. Recruiting users on our own is time-consuming, so it’s nice to have people dedicated to finding the right ones. I typically write the screeners, then turn them over to Validately to find both existing Weebly users and non-users who are willing to engage in testing.
What does a typical user testing session look like at Weebly?
At the moment, we’re focused on both evaluative testing and concept testing—seeing how users react to product flow and features. We don’t have these scheduled at a regular cadence, but follow new design or development. A couple of weeks prior to each session, we know what questions the product team has and what materials we have to test with—often an InVision prototype designed to test flow or task completion. We work with Validately to assemble users, then launch into moderated remote tests.
Can you give us an example of a design you’ve changed because of user research using Validately?
Weebly recently launched an email marketing platform called Weebly Promote. We ran many remote moderated sessions to test out the multiple iterations of the product throughout the design and development lifecycle. Primarily, we tested the basic steps that guide users through the creation of a single e-mail.
Which Validately features were particularly useful in guiding ongoing development?
The ability to tag sections of a video and make notes as you’re going along in a session is incredibly helpful. This makes it easy to go back to the full video and assemble clips for digestible stakeholder reports. The truth is, we’re running two separate tests per week almost every week, so we don’t have that much time to create in-depth reports. Being able to make those clips on the fly is a life-saver.
What features would you like to see as a part of future versions of Validately?
Having unique test links for each user would be nice. More robust benchmarking tools would also be helpful—features that allow moderators to capture time to task completion, success rates, and similar measurements. [Editor’s note:watch this space, these features (and more awesome stuff for reporting and collaborating with stakeholders) are coming soon.]
As head of user research, what advice would you give to development teams looking to start user research?
Think about where customer needs lie. This breaks down into two categories: evaluative and generative. Evaluative research looks at existing design and focuses on specific functions or features. Obviously, this is a key part of the development process. But testers should also focus on generative or formative research—that is, the higher level explanations that clarify customer need and mindset. Before getting deep into the details of design, you need to know why you’re designing.
When it comes time to focus on evaluative research, it’s really helpful to utilize tools like Validately to help expedite the process and have one location where all recordings are saved.
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Erica Brick has been Head of User Research at Weebly since July 2015. Before that, she conducted user research at Trulia from 2010 to 2015, during which time she received her MS in Human Computer Interaction from San Jose State University.
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