By Matt Leahy and Shannon Leahy
If you’ve never done user testing before, it can have a mysterious, daunting air. Testing is important, but doesn’t it require a lot of time, budget, resources, and training? Avoiding testing is tempting in the face of seemingly insurmountable constraints.
However, the reality is user testing can be executed very simply, by virtually anyone, and still produce valuable learnings. Let’s explore some common misconceptions about user testing and see how to flip the script from I can’t to I can.
1. I can’t do user testing if I’m not testing a website or an app.
While getting feedback on websites and apps is commonplace, that’s not the end-all, be-all of user testing. There’s a multitude of things that can (and should!) be tested, such as:
- Scripts for customer service representatives
- Interactive voice response (IVR) and other automated system messaging
- Text messages
- Push notifications
- Direct mail and letters
- Intranets and internal systems
There’s also the emerging world of voice and chatbot experiences. These arenas are ripe with opportunity to try out and iterate on responses and get those conversational nuances just right before launch.
2. I can’t do user testing if I don’t have high-fidelity prototypes.
Not everyone has the budget, skillset, or staff to produce prototypes in InVision, Figma, and the like.
And that’s okay.
You can use the tools you do have at your disposal—like pen and paper, slide decks, or even word processing software and a printer—to make ideas tangible and ready to test.
Sketch out and use paper prototypes to have people complete tasks. Or, build a simplified version of a UI with geometric shapes in PowerPoint or Keynote and add some light animations and transitions for an element of interaction.
Word docs can also be a trusty tool when it comes to user testing. By stripping experiences down to one of their simplest elements—words—you now have a super-fast, low-cost prototyping method at your disposal. Low-fi content prototyping and testing techniques yield insights around information flow and hierarchy. They also draw out the words and phrases your audience understands and actually uses in real life.
3. I can’t do user testing if I don’t have a dedicated researcher.
Some companies and organizations have a person or team whose sole responsibility is to conduct research. For others, that is the ultimate luxury, and working without a dedicated researcher is a known constraint.
Don’t let this constraint put you off user testing completely. Rather, use this as an opportunity to stretch. Much like a low-fidelity concept or prototype, you don’t have to be perfect to do the job and get feedback.
Ready to take the plunge? Here are some of the tips that helped us get started.
Ask open-ended questions
Don’t lead the research participant with questions like, “That was so easy to use, right? Right!”
Alright, that’s a bit extreme. Jokes aside, do try to ask “how” and “what” questions, such as, “How would you find out X?” or “What do you expect to happen after you do Y?” Or, use a prompt like, “tell me more about that,” to encourage someone to elaborate on an answer.
Silence is golden
Keep your instructions minimal, and don’t interject or intervene unless someone is really stuck. Sitting in silence is perfectly natural, and it gives participants the space and the permission to do their thing in their way.
Listen and watch for feedback
Encourage testers to think out loud and share their feedback and questions. Note the words they say, as well as their actions and body language. Someone may say things are clear, but they tilt their head to the side and frown in confusion.
Know when to say good-bye
Sometimes, a research participant just isn’t the best fit for your test. They may have little to no experience with or knowledge of the task at hand (for example, you’re testing an online payment portal for a local government agency and the person pays their bills by check and rarely, if ever, uses a computer in their daily life). Listen to your intuition if you sense something isn’t clicking. You’re allowed to end the conversation early, with grace and tact.
So what are you waiting for?
There are many ways to approach planning and executing a user testing session, and no single method is right for everyone. The beauty is, testing is fluid and flexible. You can test one email or multiple screens in a flow, and low-fi concepts are great workhorses. Figure out what you can pull off with the tools you have at your disposal. Get creative! At the end of the day, how you do your user testing is far less important than the fact you’re doing it.
About the Authors
Matt Leahy is Lead Web/UX Designer at EAB Enrollment Services, which helps colleges and universities across the country connect with prospective students through comprehensive, multi-channel marketing. Matt currently manages the web design team for EAB’s Adult Learner Recruitment division. In that role, he designs and develops responsive, accessible landing pages, applications and other experiences.
Shannon Leahy is a content strategist and designer at Capital One. In her past lives, she worked as a web copywriter, SEO specialist, and instructional designer. She’s worn different hats over the years, but one thing has remained constant: her mission to create and deliver crisp, straightforward content that helps people get stuff done.
Matt and Shannon will lead the session User Testing Doesn’t Have to Be Hard at edUi 2018.