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Tips, Tricks and Best Practices for User Testing

Knowledge is power – or so the old saying goes. The power one can gain from adopting the practice of user testing – at any stage – is the knowledge of what your users want from your website or product and how to apply this information to create an amazing user experience.

I believe it is every designer, developers and product owners dream to create and launch a website or product that is perfect for the customer right out of the gate. Having experience on both sides – the designer/developer and the client - this is hardly ever the case. It’s through research and user testing, that one can gain the insight into their customers to continue to refine and develop website or product’s features and its interface.

Although some may find user testing daunting, or expensive and lengthy, the rewards outweigh the risk... or in this case the test. User testing can be completed through various methods and approaches, as well as, at varying time of the project lifecycle. Some may opt to perform user testing just once or twice during design and development, for example early user testing is typically exploratory in nature, while feedback gained at the end of development is more validation in nature. However, organizations are seemingly adopting the approach to user testing in an agile method – which you test small and test often throughout the lifecycle. In this post we explore what is user testing, the methods and approaches and provide some recommendations on best practices.

What is User Testing?

As defined by crazyegg, “User experience testing is the process of testing different aspects of user experience to determine the best way for a website and its elements to interact with its audience.” User testing is not a relatively new tool and/or approach and has been implemented on projects for decades.

Approaches - Although user testing can be completed at various stages, the following are the top approaches for user testing:

  • Exploratory - Traditionally completed at the early stages of development, this approach is to assess the effectiveness and usability of a design or prototype. Additionally, some may use this approach to gain insight into the users' needs, wants and understanding of using the website/product.

  • Assessment - Focused on evaluation, this approach is typically completed midway through a projects lifecycle to understand satisfaction and overall usability from users.

  • Comparative  - This approach is compares two or more designs and divides their strengths and weaknesses.

Methods - User testing comes in many methods:

  • Moderated testing - User testing is completed under very definitive conditions, at a specified location using a moderator who takes notes and guides the testing.

  • Moderated remote testing - The same approach as moderated testing but completed remotely – with the moderator and user in different locations testing through screen share platform.

  • Unmoderated remote testing - Users are located anywhere and are guided through the test at their own pace through an online tool or platform.

Types of User Testing -There are several types of user testing and some will debate they each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Based on your needs, combining various types if testing is not unusual. Some common types include:

  • Usability

  • Focus groups

  • Environmental scanning

  • Problem discovery

  • Interactive wireframes and prototypes

  • Heatmaps

  • A/B testing

  • Participatory design

  • Eye tracking

  • Beta Testing

  • Surveys

  • Benchmarking

  • Learnability

Tips and Best Practices -  You have the approaches, methods and types of user testing, and now for implementation. We’ve profiled some top tips and best practices.

Segment Your Customers, and Use 5 People per Group -  In one of our last posts, we emphasized the importance of personas. Personas help segment your customers into testing groups which share certain characteristics and therefore are more successful in providing similar feedback. Segmentation can focus in on a group to understand:

  • What’s important to them

  • What they need or are looking for

  • Their typical web behaviors

  • How to design for them • What makes them convert

  • How to customize the experience specifically for them

If you don’t have personas developed, some potential segment groups can include:

  • Industry

  • Demographics 

  • Experience-level

  • Buying behavior

  • Lifestyle

  • Customer type

  • Income

  • Profession

  • Technical expertise

  • Domain knowledge

  • Location

  • Web usage

Based on research and analyzing success of testing groups, it is recommended a sample size of five participants per group as most usability issues and insights are found with the first five participants of a study.

Craft great questions and tasks - For a successful user test, one must craft a foolproof plan that easily guides users and results in effortlessly gaining the insights needed. Designing a test plan isn’t always quick and easy, and while there are no rules, the tasks should relate directly to your objective. Some top tips for crafting questions include:

  • Try to avoid developing leading questions

  • Use a rating scale for questions where you can

  • Phrase questions that are “why” and “how”

  • For unmoderated approached, the video is recommended to be 15-20 minutes in length and allow the user enough time to answer questions

  • With tasks that have multiple questions or follow-ups, use letters to separate them out

Some examples of tasks include:

Open-ended tasks - These tasks provide your test user a small explanation about how to perform the task or answer the question.

Best use for open-ended Tasks: 

  • Finding areas of interest

  • Exploratory research

  • Identifying usability issues

Specific tasks -  These tasks will provide users very clear guidance on actions and solely focuses on the exact issues you want to investigate.

Best use for specific tasks: 

  • Testing specific features

  • Testing very complex products

  • Testing for conversion optimization

Identify what needs to be tested and your objective of the test - It’s obvious, but like all tests, if you don’t know what you are looking for, the test won’t be successful. Define what you need to test and your desired outcome to create a firm scope for the user test. Than choose the approach, method and type of testing.

Take the time and plan - Much in the way you have developed a fulsome project plan, a usability test plan can keep you and your users on track and avoid any issues. Within the plan, include the problem, objective, customer segments, tasks, metrics, roles, and goals.

Create an effortlessly easy task list for users to follow - The flow for your users to complete the tasks should be very easy to follow and understand. We recommend defining the goal, writing it down and then turning those into a task for users to test.

Don’t improvise, create a script - To ensure consistency and quality of the test, create a script to follow when moderating tests. Scripts will keep you focused on the test and tasks and provide a consistence experience between testing sessions.

Run a practice test and revise - Make your team guinea pigs and have them run through the user test. This experience will uncover any issues with your plan, script and tasks – where you can revise before engaging with users and ensure you get the results you need.

Have your team observe -  Invite your team to participate by observing the sessions. It can be insightful for your team to see the test in process, can provide additional notes and feedback that they may pickup. Additionally, the team will have a better understanding and empathize with the users.

Ending Notes

Testing your website’s usability can seem like a daunting journey, but it doesn’t have to be. When you take the time to break down and understand the process, create a strong plan and follow some of the best practices, you’ll soon see the fun of collecting interesting data for informed iteration.

Lynette Sawyer

Lynette Sawyer

Lynette Sawyer is a Web Project Manager for Falcon-Software, a digital web agency founded in 1994. For the last 13-years Lynette has been in various digital capacities and her expertise goes beyond Project Management. Lynette brings experience and knowledge in graphic design, marketing communications, project management, product management and engagement.