When developing a digital product, it’s important that during this process there is communication between the team that is creating the experience and the users that the product is being created for. There are many benefits that make user testing a digital product vital for a healthy and successful development life cycle.
What is user testing?
User testing is a design exercise in which we observe actual users of a specific target audience interact with the digital product we are creating. The test is set up to help the team understand how well the end user can comprehend the new digital product we are creating. This includes the hierarchy of information, calls to action, language, and application or system messages. User testing also obtains important feedback on aesthetics, imagery, color, overall style, and tone of the product.
A script is written beforehand so that the designs can be updated to match the controlled scenarios we want to present to the user. These scenarios are simple, easily outlined tasks that the user will navigate through the prototype to complete.
Controlled scenarios keep the user focused on the one task at hand without worrying about the rest of the product. The script also helps maintain the focus on one aspect that we would like to test, rather than additional screens and interactions that might not be available in the prototype.
A facilitator is brought in to conduct this user test with the primary goal of recording each user testing session, guiding them in case they have questions or trouble working through the scenarios, and documenting any findings that may occur. The product designer and the product owners typically sit in and monitor each session but only the facilitator has direct audio contact with the user being tested.
Little guidance is provided at any given time to grant the user a chance to explore the UI themselves, give their first impressions of what they are viewing, and ask any questions they have up front. Probing questions can be asked to help nudge the user in a certain direction but leading the user step-by-step through a workflow is avoided. The goal is to observe what a completely new user might experience when using the product for the very first time.
After the testing session is done and all scenarios have been completed, the facilitator asks any lingering questions that might not have been covered. After each user has been tested, the facilitator then compiles the findings into a comprehensive report that the team can review and use to discuss ways to improve the digital product moving forward.
How does this benefit my digital product?
One major benefit of user testing is that the experience is created entirely out of design mockups, utilizing a prototyping tool so users can actively click through a representation of the website without having to code anything beforehand. This allows us to test and check how close or far off we are from an inspiring user experience without having to waste money on development efforts.
There is an enormous efficiency gained by being able to take cumulative feedback and data directly from the target audience. Users can provide us with real-time feedback on what the designs are showing, as well what they might have expected/were intending to see or view when making decisions throughout the product.
User testing results can show that you have an “epic win” – clear indications that you are solving the right concerns of your customers and eliminating key pain points. It can also show that while not perfect, you are on the right track and some simple adjustments to the design will save you time and money later. And of course, certain design decisions may fail during testing but there are a lot of benefits to failing fast and failing before you go to market. Discovering elements of the product that are not clear or intuitive gives the team a lot of insight into what users expect and how they might use the product. It is often better to receive feedback on what is not testing well rather than only receive positive feedback.
In one quick session, they can look at the digital product, give first impressions, get excited about what is to come, and even gain trust as the team continues to improve the product and push closer to launch. There is no longer a need to make assumptions in the designs because the users have told you directly whether they found certain features/tasks valuable, practical, and user-friendly.
How do I implement user testing? This sounds expensive…
As mentioned above, the experience is created entirely through design mockups where nothing has been built by development yet. This gives us time to further evaluate user testing questions and probe new ones so that we can determine how valid certain decisions are after we have a user complete a task.
Often design creates these mockups as normal deliverables for client review, so the necessary assets are already available for a simple user test. Having additional animations/transitions in the prototype does take time but can be implemented to give off a more authentic experience to the tester.
Simply designating a day or two to facilitate the user tests is the only real challenge but this is easily managed as well. There is no need to bring the person in directly to interact with them either. There is an abundance of technology that accommodates remote capabilities so the tester doesn’t even need to leave their own workspace to attend the test.
A simple link to connect to the prototype and another to join the facilitator in a conference call is all that is truly required to begin getting this extremely valuable feedback from the end users. Although there can be difficulties getting these tests set up initially, the benefits easily outweigh the cost and I believe this time should be set aside in every product’s life cycle as it is vital for the success of that digital product.
How do I make it a regular part of my product’s life cycle?
The addition of design sprints has helped maintain the momentum of new products, beginning from the product innovation workshop through the first few sprints of development work, and beyond. This also educates the clients of new products on what user testing is and the benefits it offers.
Without design sprints, simply designating timeframes within the development cycle easily sets aside the time needed to test the product. The actual testing only takes one or two days depending on the number of users we would like to go through the scenarios and provide feedback. After testing, we can then review the feedback and determine what needs to be immediately addressed to help improve the product moving forward.
Why is this important?
The end goal of any product is to have a positive impact on the end user. The product experience, features, and functions need to be useful, valuable, and memorable. What better way to get insight into what your end users want than to ask them? User testing provides businesses with the opportunity to discover if they are building something users want, as well as improving pain points before the product ever gets to market. All without a single dollar being spent on costly development.
Ron Valentine (2017, November 27). Are You Listening to Your Users?
Nancy Neumann (2017, June 2). Creating Alignment With Design Sprints.