The Value of User Testing

When we create projects within a team – especially those that take months to complete – we fall victim to the worst thing imaginable if we don’t user test: failing to actually solve the problem we were supposed to. But how could that be? You’ve worked for hundreds of hours to solve that PARTICULAR issue for your target audience. Your team has gone back and forth with revisions, and leadership approved of the final product. How could you actually fail to produce something that doesn’t yield success?

It’s quite easy, actually, it’s because you didn’t go to your actual audience and include them in the process. You’ve created your product in a silo. As designers and marketing professionals, we sometimes forget that the general public or our desired customers are not nearly as educated on your offerings as you are, and might not even know that what you’re trying to solve through your app/website is actually a problem in the first place. So, if your audience doesn’t even know they have an issue that you can solve – how can you get them to come to your company or product looking for expert help?

The answer to this is user testing. User testing is a critical pillar within the user experience process. It is through this research that teams are able to evaluate patterns, behaviors exclusive to certain audiences, and how to better their end product so that users aren’t disappointed. In a typical user testing session, individuals will be chosen that represent various demographics, attributes, and backgrounds of people who would frequently use the product. After being oriented to the process, the representative users would be asked to complete a series of tasks that guide them down the most important features of the software as well as the more abstract ones.

“We tend to be distracted by the voices in our own heads telling us what the design should look like.”
– Michael Bierut

By performing both small and large-scale testing, a company can better assess what they’re doing right and what aspects need more work. For example, if it is too hard for a person to create an account or change their account settings, you can be sure that that app is going to be deemed as a waste of space. Why have a useless app when you could use that space on your phone to hold more selfies and memes?

The most crucial things to test with a panel of users are navigation, particular interactions, or workflows. Orchestrating these attempted tasks help you and your team to see which points in the process causes customer irritation. As creators, we might be unaware of those pain points because of the daily interaction with the product. Who knew that being too close to something can make you blind to flaws?

Testing your product at multiple stages during the development process is important because, in the long run, it will save time, money, and increase user satisfaction in the end. Testing along the way will allow you to make sure that the process your team is implementing or the UI you’re hoping to have is really the best thing for your audience. The user testing will help you weed out and solve options that don’t work before you go through all the trouble developing it all. This, in turn, saves money. If you’ve ever worked with developers, the process is slow – often painful – and pivoting from the agreed-upon SOW is like the kiss of death. I can attest this from experience. Don’t ask.

There are three kinds of usability testing methods you can employ: Guerilla Usability Testing, Unmoderated Usability Testing, and Moderated Usability testing:

  • Guerilla Usability Testing: Pulling random people from a public place with high foot-traffic, who have never heard of your product before to evaluate your user experience and provide feedback
  • Unmoderated Usability Testing: Uses third-party software to pull people in to virtually test your product and provide unbiased feedback. The lack of a moderator will allow them to explore freely and see if they can complete tasks without relying on someone or feeling tempted to be nicer in critique
  • Moderated Usability Testing: This type of testing requires a moderator to interact and help users elaborate on their comments or feelings regarding the product. This is great for exceedingly complex tasks. A moderator can also help to reiterate tasks or ask targeted questions that help to pull more ideas/potential solutions from the subjects in testing

“The goal of a designer is to listen, observe, understand, sympathize, empathize, synthesize, and glean insights that enable him or her to make the invisible visible.”
– Hillman Curtis

Now that we know that user testing has all of these great benefits, how do we start getting people on the bandwagon? The answer to that is buy-in. To get leadership on your side, and secure budget for the testing project, there are a variety of things you can do. The first would be to simply write an email with your thoughts and a feature key aspects that you think would win them over. If you can, supplement those reasonings with a case study. If you work with an agency, ask them what their services are or what they have done for other clients in the past, and see if they can help frame results into a whitepaper-like report. The last thing you could do to receive buy-in is to conduct a pseudo-user test with people internally. See what your co-workers have to say about your project and serve those results up. If leadership sees enough value in that small-scale test, they are sure to understand the benefits of external, large-scale testing.

One last thing to remember about user testing: this testing is not supposed to make you think your products or ideas suck. It is to help you temperature check your progress and help you understand how the general public/target audience will use your app. Don’t take it personally – take it to the drawing board.

Cheers!

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