To improve the usability we use a range methods. The first insights are usually gained by an expert analysis, using heuristic analysis (identifying deviations from general rules and common habits) and Cognitive Walkthrough (executing typical user tasks).
An expert analysis can, however, not substitute actual user research. User Centered Design principles are therefore an integral part in every stage of the relaunch projects we support. The level of user involvement varies depending on the goals and the complexity of the website.
To define measurable usability goals (e.g. optimize conversions, reduce personnel costs, increase traffic), we start out with interviews of key stakeholders within the organization. In the next steps we analyze the target group, if needed in field studies and interviews. Based on these findings we create Personas: fictitious user profiles with distinct characteristics and goals, representing the most relevant pockets within the target group. Building the concept with those personas in mind makes the outcome much more relevant than just dealing with superimposed needs of an average user that doesn’t exist. Defining Personas also helps when selecting test users in later stages of the User Centered Design process, for example for Card Sortings.
We create low-fidelity-prototypes (paper-based prototypes, wireframes) to identify usability problems early on in the process, preventing sunk-costs on graphic designs, as well as high-fidelity-prototypes (clickdummies) before the coding work starts. These usability tests are the most effective method of identifying usability problems and can be carried out on-site with the test users as well as remote.