When an organization plans to introduce a new or significantly updated website, the IT department will typically incorporate a healthy amount of user testing into the project plan. Why? Because they know that what looks good on paper does not always translate well into practice. Users of a website are an enigmatic bunch. No matter how “intuitive” a particular web experience is meant to be, they will always use your tools in ways no one would have ever anticipated.

So why do organizations often “skimp” on testing their online abstract management systems?

Given the temporary life span of a collection system, perhaps testing is not considered to be as important or necessary. Or, maybe there simply isn’t enough time in the current project schedule. Whatever the reason, skipping or short-cutting your user testing will likely produce more issues for you, your submitters and reviewers down the road. You can easily avoid this by setting up a quick and simple process that allows you to identify and resolve any potential “sticking points” early on. Honestly, we find that a majority of the time, issues can be fixed through a simple re-writing of the submission instructions.

Who should test your system?

When evaluating an abstract management system, keep in mind that this tool will be used by people in a variety of roles, and with different levels of technical savvy, time, patience (and potentially, command of the English language). Therefore, it’s recommended that you perform a “test-drive” with these variations in mind.

  • Recruit volunteers who reflect the diversity of your submitters and reviewers, including those that may have the most basic comfort and knowledge with online technology
  • This includes individuals who are part of your organization but perhaps not involved in the day-to-day of your conference, as well as individuals from outside your organization (friends, neighbors and relatives)
  • Assign them each a different role, and provide them with a list of basic tasks to complete. Have them document their input into a provided worksheet or spreadsheet and note where they run into problems

How long should testing take?

You will want to build in 2-4 weeks total, which includes testing, compilation of results, as well as making (and re-testing) changes to your collection system before it opens. Here are some general guidelines. Your specific timeframe will vary depending upon how simple or complex your submission process is:

  • Give your testers about a week to complete their assigned tasks, allowing you to be mindful of their schedules while ensuring you get as many completed tests as possible
  • Plan to spend a few days going through the feedback, and compiling notes for your provider
  • Depending upon the nature of the issues, you’ll want to give your provider anywhere from a few days to 1-2 weeks to make the necessary changes
  • Don’t forget to re-test any changes! This can be done with a smaller group, in a matter of days

What sorts of things should we test?

Because “good” user experience is somewhat subjective, it can be difficult to define and quantify. In general, here’s how to identify a well-designed abstract management system:

  • Basic functions are intuitive, and require little to no instructions
  • The page is designed and laid out in a way that makes it easy for users to understand what they need to do, and in what order
  • The process is easy to follow, even for those whom do not speak English as their first language
  • Processes require as few clicks as possible to complete
  • Visual or text-based cues are logically placed throughout the site to prompt users if and when they need assistance

Do you have any tips or tricks on testing your abstract management system? Share them with your peers in the comments here.

Want to know more about setting up your collection and review process for success? We can help? Send us a note.

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