// Internet Duct Tape

SOAP and The Importance of Hallway Usability Testing

Posted in Internet Duct Tape News, Technology by engtech on March 17, 2007

Disambiguation: I’m talking about Business Blogwire’s “Scratch One Another Program” not “Simple Object Access Program”

Joel Spolsky writes that:

A hallway usability test is where you grab the next person that passes by in the hallway and force them to try to use the code you just wrote. If you do this to five people, you will learn 95% of what there is to learn about usability problems in your code.

A user interface is well-designed when the program behaves exactly how the user thought it would.

He writes even more on the subject in his free book on UI design. I’m one of those people who always comes up with complicated solutions and hacks. I find detaching myself from something I’m familiar with and looking at it with the mindset of a new user one of the hardest tasks. That’s why I love the idea behind sites like Hallway Testing and projects like SOAP.

(note: SOAP is looking for more bloggers to participate)

When it comes to website design the most important opinion is that of someone with a fresh view. And that’s why I was so happy at the quality response I got from Yvonne at Grow Your Writing Business. Now I need to get off my butt and SOAP Make It Great (as well as make the improvements from Yvonne’s suggestions).

I highly recommend participating in SOAP if you are interested in improving your web site design.

If you’re interested in reading the advice Yvonne gave me then click the link to read more.

Hello Engtech

Firstly, we should get along fine as far as weird spellings go, as our spelling in Australia is pretty much the same as yours.

I’m hoping that Easton Ellsworth will tackle the tech stuff when he reviews your blog. My perspective is that of a non tech reader not familiar with your site, so this is somewhat of a challenge for me. This is possibly a demographic, you have not had feedback from before, so this perspective may be of interest.� I offer everything I say with a respectful and supportive intention, so I hope you will take it in that spirit.

I can see you have put a lot of thought into the design of the site, and as a new blogger (started December), it is very inspirational.

I understand my job is to give you any tips and suggestions. My comments are mainly about design, from the point of view of a new reader, in terms of navigating your site. As people sometimes fly through, at lightning speed, a lot of them are new readers too (even if they are tech savvy), who do not know necessarily know at a glance how your site and how it operates.

You have lots of great info here, and I will be returning to soak up some of your valuable information. I have started blogging with a free blog theme, so this is a bit of a “do as I say” rather than “do as I do”. My blog focus is far too broad, and yours is very focused, so that is great too, about your site.

I have spent a couple of hours checking out your blog.� I read the post where you listed the things you know you should not have done. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have mattered, as it appears you are doing very well, indeed. Congratulations!

I am very keen to take my blog to the next level, and looking forward to getting some feedback from the SOAP gang, so here’s goes with my engtech SOAPing.

Some thoughts for your consideration –

Starting with the banner –

The Cat

Love the cat, and he/she seems to have developed a bit of a following. If you want to feature the cat a little bit more, he/she could head a special feature e.g. The Cat’s Picks (I’m sure you can think of something a bit more creative)

I know you want to be anonymous. Maybe I missed it, but if not, such a great looking cat deserves a name, even if it’s a fake one. What do you think? The name could just be in the posts – doesn’t have to be in the banner.

If you really want to push it, you could even include a few lines in the About� section – About the Cat, and have a Name That Cat competition to involve your readers in a bit of fun.

I know it’s a tech site, but as the cat is your mascot, and I notice a lot of commenters mention the cat, you could change the pic from time to time e.g. Easter cat, Christmas cat etc. etc. or have an image rotation. It’s such a great pic, though, I can understand why you may not want to change it. Just thought, as the cat seems to be a mainstay, and your site has a touch of humour, you could have some fun with this, even if just occasionally.

Gosh, that’s a lot about the cat, isn’t it? Gotta love the cat. (and I don’t know much about cats, either, so it’s all downhill from here.) LOL

Short and Long in your tabs

I think a post is as long as it needs to be, and if you have something interesting or useful to say, whether it is long or short won’t make any difference to the reader. I understand you probably want to give the reader as many entry points as possible. Maybe you could call it “Articles” and “Snippets” or other variations.


I would like to see Categories on the front page too (either with a tab for categories, or added to the right navigation). I found it hard to get to the categories, as they weren’t on the page I got to, when I clicked recent posts, either. Can the categories be on every page, as I found them hard to find again, when I was on other pages too where they didn’t show on the right nav.

//engtech is where I write about geeky stuff like blogging

This seems to intimate that you have a website, or also write somewhere else.

(I’m a writer, so maybe, I’m being extra picky here). ;)


Everything (little) and Everything (lots). How about Everything (Summaries) and Everything (Full Posts). Do you find a lot of people want to see all posts in one hit? As the number of posts grow this may become unwieldy.� Perhaps, the Everything (lots) spot is where you could put the latest article teaser, either in a box or not.

Current Post

I would like to see a snippet from the latest post on the front page. Now I have to go to Most Recent Posts, and when I get there, I don’t know what date the latest one was written on. You don’t have dates on any posts. Perhaps this was a conscious decision.

Love the side Navigation drop downs and icons, and that these are repeated in the posts – very well thought out, and effective.

Maybe you could have the latest post and a summary at the top of the home page with a pic or icon or box saying saying Latest Post, in a similar format to the featured posts in the side column of other pages – either just the latest post, or maybe the latest 3 posts, or variation thereof. Someone surfing the web, who doesn’t know how your blog works (or that it is a blog), may not easily find this latest post, as they would be expecting to see it on the home page.

Similarly, to get older posts some more readers, you could have a “Random Post” either on the right nav, or as a tab or as a boxed feature. Of course, there are variations of this concept e.g. My Favourite Posts etc. The Cat’s Favourite Posts or a rotating post – to further engage readers in your community and to get them deeper into the site, past just the latest posts etc.� I see you already have a lot of entry points, so this is great.


Regular users would work out how your site works quite quickly, but as a first time visitor, or for someone just flying through the blogosphere, I think it would be useful to add a small “Read more” or “Continued” or similar next to your summary headings. You want to those flying through to find what they need quickly, stay and come back.

Boxes on the Front Page

I would suggest making the Harold box the same size as the rest for uniformity. If you especially wanted it to stand out, you could do it in a different way, rather than the size. It just doesn’t seem balanced. The box concept works well, and is a great idea.

Alt Tags

With disability issues, and also for SEO, you may want to add Alt tags and descriptions to your post images. The ones I checked didn’t have it. I see you have them in your features section images.

Features in Right Nav

This is a great idea, and very effective. Not sure if it would serve any real purpose but these could be on a rotation, or maybe just one of these could be a random post (or mystery post) and that one could rotate.


I read on Daily Blog Tips about a WP plugin for threading comments. It’s my understanding you can’t use plugins for wordpress.com, but there may be something else you can use or develop. I understand, that this way, readers (and you) can reply to a specific comment, and it will appear in that order, rather than out of order. I am going to check it out myself.

Okay, that’s about it, from me. I hoped this helped in some small way – at least food for thought, even if nothing especially useful. I have learned a lot of how I can improve my site, just by looking at how you do things, so thanks for the opportunity to be part of the SOAP experience.

Feel free to contact me, if you want any further clarification on anything here.

I’d be really interested in your feedback on my thoughts

All the best.

Yvonne Russell

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9 Responses

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  1. timethief said, on March 17, 2007 at 3:59 am

    Okay, I must be crazy. I signed up for SOAP and it’s all your fault {she said with a grin :)}.

  2. David Airey said, on March 17, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    I participated in the SOAP programme too, although my SOAPing of Jessica Duquette wasn’t as lengthy as the one on your blog!

    If you want to check it out, feel free:


    Bye for now

  3. Phil Gerbyshak said, on March 18, 2007 at 2:16 am

    Looking forward to your feedback. Thanks for agreeing to assist!

  4. engtech said, on March 18, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    SOAP is such a good idea.

  5. Yvonne Russell said, on March 19, 2007 at 7:45 am

    Hi engtech

    I’m so pleased that you found my SOAPy feedback of engtech useful.

    I learned a lot from the experience, partly just by taking the time to look super closely at the basic aspects we normally take for granted, when we are browsing, or flying through the blogosphere.

    Putting it in the context of usability testing, as you have done, gives some interesting insights as well.

    Thanks for the opportunity to be part of the SOAP experience. I agree it’s a great program. For one thing, it’s helped me discover your site, which I will be revisiting. :)

    All the best


  6. Easton Ellsworth said, on March 19, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    Awesome feedback by Yvonne. engtech, please email me and let me know what you like most about SOAP and what you would improve if I were to run another round of it. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

    Still about 15 or 20 spots left, folks!

  7. kate said, on March 21, 2007 at 8:05 pm


    I work for Paulo Coelho’s publisher and I discovered your blog whilst doing my daily duties… which include digging through hundreds of Google searched pages for Paulo related stories.

    Seeing as you are interested in his work – I thought you might be interested to know that Paulo has set up a new blog here: http://en.paulocoelhoblog.com/witch-of-portobello/

    Hope you get a chance to take a look some time – and maybe pass the link on ?

    Many thanks for your time.

    Kate B

  8. […] SOAP and the Important of Hallway Usability Testing […]

  9. […] had such fun last time and learned a lot. I SOAPed Engtech and was SOAPed by GP. As soon as I saw there was an encore round this month, I signed up straight […]

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