When we started the konsoleH redesign, we knew that we wanted a control panel that allowed our customers to complete their tasks in the most efficient way possible. That word – efficiency – is a big one for us, because we know that being able to manage your hosting environment (or business) from a single, integrated management system makes your life easier. We also wanted a control panel that scales seamlessly from small to enterprise users. And, of course, the best possible user experience on any device.

But how? We realised that the best method to create this tool was to develop a deep understanding of our customers, their needs, and their behaviours. Our user-centric philosophy to design lets us hold our customers at the centre of all our product development decisions. Working with a customer volunteer group, we employ usability testing at every stage of designing the new konsoleH. It’s an invaluable way to ensure that what we build is what our customers need.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is, in essence, showing prototypes to actual users and asking them for feedback. The purpose is to identify problems – where people are getting stuck, what they find frustrating, what they can’t find – and fix them before we start building the tool. This is done by watching users complete tasks, and asking them to explain their decisions. Feedback is then incorporated into the design, and so the cycle continues. This feedback loop is called iterative testing, as the results from usability testing are fed back into the tool, tested and improved. It’s an invaluable part of software development because it delivers real-world feedback direct from our customers.

The value of usability testing

This collective knowledge helps us to develop a tool that delivers the best possible user experience. The truth is that we don’t always know why users do what they do. Usability testing helps us understand the surprise behaviour of users: how – and why – they use a tool. Importantly, using real customers with real insights means we have facts, proof and the right kind of product intelligence to shape our next steps.

Usability testing can take place at any stage of the design, but there are three core phases when it is most helpful:

  1. Before the design: to test the concept, possibly using paper prototypes or very rough mock-ups (usually not clickable).
  2. During the initial design phase: to test the direction the design is going, using very simple clickable prototypes (called wireframes).
  3. Once the design is ‘finished’: to test the end tool, and refine it where necessary.

We make sure to test one-on-one as results get skewed in a group, and we’ve found that the magic numbers for user testing is between 5 and 10 people – an ideal number to identify behaviour patterns and user needs. One of the outcomes of our iterative testing cycle is the new Mail Admin tool in konsoleH 2, which is the first tool to illustrate our new card-based design.

Crafting a usability session

The actual usability sessions are fascinating: they take about an hour, and we monitor facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. The user is encouraged to think aloud during the session, and we record everything they say or do during the session. This can be in person, or by screen-sharing. We also use Hotjar to track user behaviour: it lets us see where users are looking on the screen. The tools we use – Hotjar, Optimal Workshop and Appear.In – are an essential part of usability testing because they let us scale up and automate our testing.

How does usability help you?

Why should Hetzner customers care about usability? Because it offers you a better experience. If we can iron out most of the problems with a tool before we release it, that means you’ll spend less time figuring out how to use it, and more time engaging with the tool in a meaningful way. Usability testing is just one of the ways we’re trying to make konsoleH 2 the best possible control panel for our customers.