Providing a Better Experience with User Testing

When it comes to a project, making your design suitable for your end user is a key consideration – this is where user testing comes in.

What is User Testing?

User testing is a series of workshops, exercises and reviews with real people. The participants in these tests represent your end user.

In terms of how we conduct user testing, it can be done either in person or online with services such as usertesting.com.

Why is it Useful?

As many years as we've been in the industry, we could be considered experts, but every challenge is unique and every set of users are unique. You need to test assumptions with the people you're designing for to ensure you're solving their actual problems.

People often use things in ways you may not expect, and user testing helps you to uncover the problems you haven’t prepared for – resulting in a better experience for your user.

One of the biggest problems designers and developers come across is suffering from “too close to it” syndrome, meaning we sometimes fail to step back and view the result completely objectively. A fresh pair of eyes from someone who has had zero involvement in the project can really help to pull out what needs to be tweaked.

While testing lets us validate our existing ideas, new ideas can also come out of these workshops. We don't have a monopoly on good ideas, often your users will have great ideas for you.

Perhaps the standout benefit of user testing when comparing it to written/purely verbal questionnaires or surveys, for example, is that you get the opportunity to observe the people participating. Usually, observation provokes a more genuine reaction than just speaking to someone. People often feel pressure to be polite and ‘sugar coat’ their opinions. Their body language or facial expressions can be more truthful.

For example, someone might say that they didn’t have a problem navigating to a particular part of your site/app, however their facial expression might reflect that they’re confused or having difficulty.

User testing is also a great way to engage with your customers and brand fans. Making your customers a core part of your projects helps to build brand loyalty and shows them that you're not just paying lip service to caring about them.

Design, Develop, Test

When working on a digital project you need to be cyclical - you need to keep learning how your customers use your product and adapt and change to those usage patterns.

This is an iterative process; you design something, prototype it, test your prototype and go back to the design. Then you do it all over again.

Plus Dane

User testing played a big part in our recent work for Plus Dane Housing Association.

We brought four of our end users into our office for a half-day workshop to test out the site. Ideally, we would have liked to work with 8-10 participants, however the value lay in the specific comments and feedback that we got, rather than the amount of it (user testing with even two participants can prove itself useful if not statistically significant).

The workshop was invaluable and brought up some issues with the site that we otherwise wouldn’t have spotted. We were able to get a true insight into how people would use the site, removing all of our pre-existing assumptions.

If there’s one thing that can be taken away from our experience of user testing, it’s this: things that might be obvious to you are certainly not obvious to everyone.

What often feels like common knowledge is simply domain knowledge disguised as common knowledge. User testing does a great job of distinguishing between the two.

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