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The Importance of User Testing

June 5, 2019

Imagine you have an amazing idea for a product that you know people everywhere will go love - just the other day your friends were talking about how great it would be if something like this product existed.

You're certain your product will be a huge success, so you get to work. If you have some coding skills you might create a prototype. Or maybe you just grab a napkin and sketch an outline of what your product will look like and do. You show it to friends and they all love it, so you invest some money and get it built.

Your product launches and...silence. Or even worse, people try it and your reviews are full of criticism of the current functionality and thoughts on how it could have been improved.

How could this have gone so wrong? People should love this idea! Your friends told you it was brilliant and that they would use it all the time! What happened?!

Let's rewind to when you had your brilliant idea, back to when it was just a sketch on a napkin. This would have been the perfect time to engage in some good, old fashioned user testing.

User testing is a method of gathering feedback quickly so you can evaluate an idea, feature, or full product in order to ensure that what you are creating will actually serve the user you are targeting.  Typically users are asked to perform an action and/or answer questions without the assistance or prompting of the facilitator.

This helps you, the product creator, gain a sense of how real people will interact with your product. You can see what pitfalls they might encounter, their reaction to the layout and the colors, but most importantly you can determine if they view your product as something useful that they would actually use.

Although it might seem tempting to trust the opinions and critiques of your friends and family, I would strongly recommend against this for two reasons: bias and the importance of testing with your target users.

Your friends and family love you and want you to succeed, which creates a high likelihood that they will be biased towards your idea. They are less likely to point out major flaws, criticize the idea, flat out tell you how much they hate it or that they are already using something similar and the reasons they would never consider switching.

A person who doesn’t know you is much more likely to tell you exactly how they feel about your product without worrying that disliking your idea will damage your relationship. They are also more likely to point out areas that could be improved and, because it’s their first time looking at the product, provide great insight into how to improve those areas.

The second biggest reason is the importance of testing with your target users. Your friends and family are great but are they actually the people who would use your app in the real world?

You might feel more comfortable showing your new dog walking app to a close friend, but if that friend doesn’t own a dog, or owns a dog but would never hire a dog walker, what they think about your product doesn’t actually matter - they wouldn’t use the app in the real world, no matter how great it may be.

Have I convinced you of the importance of user testing? If so, here are the typical steps you would go through if you decide to conduct some of your own user testing.

Identify your target users
As I mentioned earlier, these people should represent exactly who you want your audience to be. Get specific about it: how old are they, what problem would this app solve for them, where do they live, what do they do for work, etc. Ideally, you want to create a user persona which will help you find your target users. You can use this guide to help you create a user persona!

Identify the problem
Just like scientific research, good user research starts with an awareness of the problem you are hoping to solve. It can be as simple as wanting to see if an alternate way of signing up causes less friction or as complex as seeing which subtle differences in a home page help you gain the most user trust.

Create a list of tasks
It’s a good idea to come up with a list of specific tasks you’d like to see users try to complete without any assistance. When determining what these tasks will be you should remember that you will simply be giving the user a task, asking them how they think they would go about doing each of them, and then watch them run through each task.

Create a script
Now that you know who you want to test with and the tasks that they will complete, you should write an interview script. This can be a word for word script or an outline, but it should include prompts for all the tasks you'd like completed and provide enough of an outline that will allow you to give each user the same experience.

Recruit your Users
Because you created a user persona you should know the type of person you are looking to recruit. You should now create a short screener consisting of a handful of questions that anyone interested in participating can fill out. This will help to ensure that they fit the description of who you want to talk to and aren’t attempting to participate for the compensation you may be providing.

User Test!
You’ve found a good group of test subjects and are ready to user test! You can run your tests in person or over a video call - it’s essential that you are able to watch and record the tasks your users are performing. It can be helpful to have someone assist you with taking notes so that you can focus on asking the questions and watching the interactions.

Recording the session (with permission) is always a bonus as you can rewatch it later and potentially see things you may have missed the first time around.

Your testers are taking valuable time out of their day and providing you with a beneficial service by giving you the ability to get your prototype looked at by the right people. They will provide you with a huge amount of useful data that will help you answer many questions about your product as well as provide you with new ideas for future iterations. Because of this it’s important to compensate them for their time. We typically use $50-$100 gift cards.

The biggest hesitations people have surrounding user testing generally concern idea theft or the amount of time and cost associated with it. However, assuming that your product is perfect as-is runs the risk of a much higher cost than paying for user testing and having the ability to identify a problem or change that should be made early on.

Regarding idea theft, it’s quite unlikely that this will occur, and as an added precaution against it we recommend having all participants sign an NDA.

While user research can seem daunting it can be your best guide to creating products users will love!

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