Project Zero: Creating A Website – Focus Testing

Progress: Ta-da! So obviously the website is up and running. I've already made several design decisions, some of which are still in the pipeline, but there is still much to do. One surprisingly interesting thing I've had to deal with so far, is focus testing.

As set out in my first project blog, one of the first things I needed to determine was how to brand the website. Branding in this case is about making a focused, marketable 'image' for the site. This isn't just about creating some iconic graphic for a product; it's about defining a style and consistent message, about narrowing the scope of the content, targeting a specific audience, and figuring out exactly what benefit this site has to offer that audience.

But first, I have to start with a name.

Creative design caused by a sudden inspirational Eureka! moment is great and all; but often times you have to work within a deadline. That means sitting yourself down and actively brainstorming or working through ideas. While it may seem frustrating or even counter intuitive trying to force these moments, the truth is that inspiration will come a lot more often when you put in the effort. Actively working on the problem causes your brain to unconsciously work on the issue more too, leading to you seeing a lot more Eureka! moments in the future.

After a good amount of brain storming, elbow grease, and tossed darts I was able to come up with four potential domain names for my website. All of them had a slightly different interpretation of what kind of site this might be. They also all had some association or contextual meaning to me.

This website is meant for an audience however, and whether it be my ideas or myself I was intending to 'sell' something. For that audience to be interested in spending their attention here, this site branding would have to be something they associated as being worth their time. My opinions were already biased to the names, so I needed data on what other people would think.

Focus Testing Is Like Herding Cats

Focus testing it turns out, is much trickier then it seems. The way I asked and presented questions made a world of difference in priming the responses I got. It's not that I got answers I didn't expect, what happened was people ended up answering completely different questions then I intended.

For instance, in my very first focus test, I presented a list of all four potential names to my unsuspecting subject. Immediately, their response was to rank the names from most favorite to least. What's more, their responses to the names suggested they were trying to decide which name would be best for me personally. They were giving me answers they thought I wanted to hear.

So for the next test, I changed my approach and gave my new subject each name one at a time. This tactic showed a marked improvement. Now the focus tester would give more detailed commentary about each individual name, and whether or not they thought it would be appropriate for my blog. But this still meant that they were trying to tailor their answers to me instead of reacting to the names themselves.

The purpose for this focus test wasn't to have people help choose the name of this website. Their opinions would certainly affect my decision, but I wanted to figure out how people would react if they came across this site name in the wild. The important data is why they liked one name or another, not which name they liked. Obviously this called for a new approach.

First, I made sure to randomly change the order that I presented the names to each new person; just in case the delivery or ordering of the names might make responses biased. In the next focus test I also laid out several specific questions or responses I was looking for in a rather casual manner:

"I'm looking for outside view first response / impression reaction. What would you think this blog is about, would it interest you or turn you off, is it memorable"

This approach gave me a lot more direct feed back. Focus testers were now telling me what associations first came to their mind when they saw the name. They were thinking about what a site with that name might be about, rather then trying to mold the name around what kind of site they think I want to create. Feed back also started showing me how other people reacted differently to the names then I would have.

After seeing a few more responses like this I was better equipped to tailor the questions in a way to get the most valuable information. I ended up sending out a form like:

For each of these domain names, consider the following:

    • What kind of first impressions do you get when seeing the name for the first time?
    • What kind of association do you make with the name? What would you think the site is about?
    • If you came across these domain names on the web, would you be inclined to avoid or be interested in them?
    • Does the name strike you as memorable or recognizable? Would you be able to recall it later after seeing it once?
    • Do you have any other general impressions you'd feel worth mentioning?

Short informal answers are fine. The Domain names in no particular order are:

Results And Fate

After completing the focus tests, I gathered all of the data together for each name. The results gave me valuable information, not just on which name people liked best but why they liked it.

The information revealed that I had one name that was good for a web blog, one that was good for a portfolio, and one that was pretty generic. It showed me that for one of the names I liked, without the punctuation every single person assumed it was a physics joke. It even showed me which types of people found which types of names appealing, which is great for figuring out what type of audience you want to attract vs what audience you will attract.

I still did a bunch of research after the focus testing that took into consideration other design issues. Things like finding out what other sites with similar names or content might be compared to me; thinking about how the site name would look when presented on a resume or in Facebook; and so on. The focus test did make a difference though, and I ended up not going with my personal favorite. Instead I was able to narrow down the four names to two promising candidates; then finally a dues ex machina came in resulting in the site name you see now.

The whole thing was quite an experience, with several unexpected turns and a lot learned. There is still a ton left to do with the site, and this particular project will probably never be officially complete. There's probably still much more I could do improve my focus test in the future, but now I'll be a lot better equipped to handle that when it comes.

One thought on “Project Zero: Creating A Website – Focus Testing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *