Special thanks to Lexie Lu for the submission.
The importance of usability testing can’t be overstated. This process of bringing in outsiders to reveal what works — and what doesn’t — is often the best way to discover what aspects of the product need improvement. To be honest, it’s not the most exciting aspect of developing a product and can sometimes end up taking a lot of effort to set up, but it’s an invaluable part of the development process.
Without it, there’d be so many flawed and half-baked apps, websites and other products that fizzle out as soon as they’re released due to poor, or no, UX testing. The people and companies who take the time to conduct these tests are the ones who hit the market much better prepared than their competitors.
Just conducting some UX testing isn’t enough, however. A poorly conducted test could lead you to some false conclusions and waste valuable time and resources. Follow these best practices in order to ensure that you squeeze the most value out of each test.
Keep a Tight Focus on What Needs to Be Tested
We all like to think big picture. We also like to err on the side of too much data rather than too little. While those are generally admirable characteristics, some caution needs to be taken before applying them to a UX testing environment.
It’s important to keep the focus of the testing as simple as possible. When designing the test, strip out what’s unnecessary and key in on the data that’s most important. Don’t overload the testing process with unnecessary questions and features. You don’t need to include all the design elements and make it visually appealing. Instead, focus on the things that absolutely need to be tested. Provide a rough wireframe with functionality features. It’s tempting to throw everything and the kitchen sink in after going through the trouble of rounding up testers, yet in most cases this isn’t a good thing.
Find Your Ideal Group of Testers
How many testers should be used for your product? Keep in mind for qualitative testing, you don’t need an exuberant amount of testers. It’s tempting to go for more rather than less, but a well-conducted UX test needs only five people. Five might seem low, but it’s widely recognized as the magic number for providing a wealth of information while keeping costs down and providing a return on investment. For more of a quantitative-based testing, more participants is best to get more accurate statistics.
Of course, it’s even more important to figure out “who” you’re testing rather than “how many” people you’re testing. The target demographic for many sites and apps include a mixture of different people with varied backgrounds, so you’ll need to determine exactly who you need feedback from. This involves planning and feedback from various internal and external stakeholders. Screening these participants to determine how they fit into the usability test is another part of the process.
Clear Out Any Preconceived Notions
If you’re working for a smaller company, there’s a good chance you’ve be
en closely involved with the development of your product. Now you need to put on another hat, so to speak, and test your ideas in the wild.
We all have our biases and preconceived notions. We find ourselves attached to certain features or elements of a project. That closeness prevents us from clearly seeing what should be changed, even when we receive feedback explaining what needs to be done.
Author William Faulkner famously said to “kill your darlings” while writing, as a writer’s favorite elements might not be what’s best for readers. That’s just as applicable for UX testing. Those features we’re in love with might need to be killed. Keep an open mind during the testing process and be prepared to fine-tune the things you love most. Letting personal bias get in the way of testing results causes big problems down the road.
This is especially important if you’re looking to overhaul an existing product. You and your users might be happy with the product, but there’s almost always room for improvement. With an existing product, you’ll have to be especially disciplined in not letting your personal views cloud the testing process. Otherwise, you could end up alienating users with big changes or fail to make the improvements that are needed.
To keep an unbiased approach during A/B testing, consider having both products visually the same. Use the same colors and only alter the functionality. If one, specifically the experimental group, has more color or is more appealing to the eye, testers will gravitate toward it before diving into its functionality. This can alter the results drastically.
Even if you’ve crafted a strong UX test and are pleased with the results, take the time to go off-script and speak with the participants when they’re finished. During this post-mortem phase, the participants might be able to enlighten you about something you didn’t even think of accounting for.
Keep this part informal, as people might open up more when they’re not taking an official survey or questionnaire. This might not lead to anything useful, but since you already have the participants there, it doesn’t hurt to spend a few more moments to pick their brains — metaphorically, of course.
Turn Results Into Change
Testing is an important step, but it’s more important to put those results into action. Delve into the data, and don’t overlook any of the feedback received. Consider timing each session and look into the tester’s click rate. Perhaps it took them too long to find the next step. This is something that should be addressed in the next development phase.
Even a seemingly innocuous result on a survey might highlight an area that needs some extra work. Involve the rest of the team to ensure the data turns into outcomes that work. This is the perfect time to share the testers’ thoughts about the usability and what features they’d omit or include with the rest of your team. Be open and honest with the developers about serious concerns, and have your data ready to back you up. Ironing out these issues will help the designers to create something that’s both cohesive and visually appealing. After all, no one enjoys a mediocre product.
Lexie Lu is a UX designer and blogger. She actively contributes to the world of design and usually has a cup of coffee in close proximity. She writes weekly on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.