Richard Branson proposed the ‘mum test’ for validating ideas and 2014, advocates for the ‘granny test’ in vetting user experience


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A December 2013, issue of the magazine, featured a Sir Richard Branson Q&A article. If you might be wondering who Sir Richard Branson is, he is a world renowned entrepreneur with about 400 companies under his belt. A student, who is doing a major in entrepreneurship, was quite curious on how to initiate and execute his numerous business ideas- which prompted him to post a question to the legendary entrepreneur. Sir Richard Branson was astute enough in proposing a testing system that has helped him validate his business ideas for years. Now this testing system is not an oracle, Soasta or micro focus software, in case you are wondering. It is Branson’s mum, the great assessor – and this led him to enthuse, “If she glazes over when you describe the new venture, return to your hammock and start over. If she gets excited, you could be onto a winner.” Hold this thought for a moment, as we relate this to an online customer experience or web user experience.

This leads me to share a story from personal experience I had a few weeks ago, while helping a granny setup her email on her blackberry. She could not recall her blackberry ID, so I had to help her reset the password. Blackberry, then sent across an automated mail to the granny’s BT connect email. The next battle was to navigate our way through the BT website- like a combat soldier, treading through treacherous creeks in Cambodia. She then affirmed, “BT had a very easy website a couple of years back, this new site is very difficult to sort out.” This suddenly rang a bell in the confines of my head- as I meticulously thought within- ‘a granny test might be necessary for validating a website’s user experience.’

This personal encounter brought back home a recent research I conducted for a customer experience consultancy which focused on a comparative and competitive web analysis of twelve boutique CX consulting outfits. The conclusions garnered from this research are typical to a user experience requirements of a granny.

Features of a user friendly website (the granny way):

1) Bold and readable fonts: It is pretty common, that the older someone gets, the weaker one’s eye
vision could become. In my research, using the alexia analytical tool, the CX consultancies that had the lowest bounce rate (that is the most engaging websites with a longer visitor time), were the sites with a bigger font size, better line spacing and appropriate colour combination.

This tends to illustrate that most visitors- not just granny’s, would spend more time on sites with legible fonts and appropriate spacing.

2) Minimal use of jargons: Granny’s get confused with jargons- as it is a complete turn off on sites. This is because, the more jargons you use on your site, the more clarification calls, she would have to make to her grandson- who is probably partying at the university. If you have to use couple of jargons then, I would recommend having a jargon buster section on your website, that explains some of these technical words.

3) Incremental change: Some companies are tempted to implement a drastic change of
their website at major time-frames like, the beginning of a financial year, launch of a new product or after a merger and acquisition. Regardless of the reason, incremental web changes that would not make the granny feel like she has bumped onto the wrong website would be recommended.

4) Web content optimization and performance: Most grannies love to go through pictures of their grand children. Your website should have suitable and optimized graphics that would grab their attention and invoke memories of wonderful family time. In terms of web performance, tools like GT metrix are very helpful in understanding how fast your website is. Page load time or performance has become increasingly important to the user experience of customers as Pitkow and Kehoe conducted a research that showed 69% of the respondents citing a problem with page loading time. It is also widely perceived that, the user patience levels of websites have decreased over the years. In 1999, Zona research established that, one third of website visitors are lost if the site takes more than eight seconds to load.

Sir Richard Branson takes his business ideas to his mum for validation and in 2014, it would be great if businesses could get a few grannies or less technological savvy individuals, to act as usability testers. Simplicity and effectiveness is very important in establishing an excellent web user experience.

Dateme Tamuno
Dateme Tamuno (Tubotamuno) is currently working as part of the SEO and PPC delivery team for UK based digital agency, Cariad Marketing. He has also completed a book on user-generated content marketing.


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