User testing refers to a technique used in the design process to evaluate a product, feature or prototype with real users. There are several reasons why you might want to undergo usability testing, the most common is that it allows the design team to identify friction in a user experience they are designing, so that it can be addressed before being built or deployed. Identifying any issues early reduces the longer term cost.
Typically tasks are set which users are asked to perform to the best of their ability, while observers watch, listen and take notes.
Setting up user testing involves creating a test plan, recruiting participants, performing the test, and analysing the results to produce findings & recommendations.
In order to get usable results…
- the users must be representative of the actual user base of the product or service.
- the test must be impartial so that a user’s actions are not influenced in ways that lead to a bias result.
- the sessions are documented or recorded for later review.
- the results are examined by UX experts to determine the recommendations that follow.
User testing does not have to be expensive or carried out in a lab. For best results is should be done in person, but remote user testing can be made to work, and in a pinch there are 3rd party services that can provide some insight for less cost.
Testing can be done at almost any stage of the design process. You don’t have to wait until you have a functional prototype, you can start testing with ideas on paper if relevant. Generally speaking the sooner in the design process testing can be performed, the less work has to be redone later. Ideally multiple tests should be performed throughout a project lifecycle, but if there is only time or budget to do it once you must choose this time wisely.
User testing should ideally be performed on every project. The best designers in the world can’t foresee every possible user action and reaction – designers have ideas based on best practice and experience, so testing allows the ideas to be validated. Validation is vital to reducing risk. If the risk is very low it can be excused, but in almost every scenario some level of user testing will improve the process and save the business money.
We try to bake user testing into everything we do, it helps validate our work and provide more value to our clients.