Why user testing matters

Why user testing and gathering end-user input matters for making great products.


We all know how important getting customer feedback from the end user is, right? (insert silent pause here) Over the course of my career in UX design, I’ve come across this preconception that user testing is too expensive or requires a lot of effort. I disagree. Involving the end user during early concepts and research studies helps product managers and product designers to build more engaging products and learn to speak their customer’s language instead of creating things on gut feelings and intuition. Let me explain why…

Everyone’s opinion is a hypothesis for research”

Gathering User Research & Validating Concepts

User testing goes way beyond usability flaws and validating the visual design output of an app, website or service. It’s not so much of a question on whether or not you came up with the right interaction design, but truly understanding the user needs you’re designing for. Often times we’re quick to assume that we know our personas and users really well, however, do we? When was the last time you conducted an actual user interview?

Solving User & Business Needs vs “Creating Features”

Let’s face it, we’re all in the experience economy. Consumers now have higher expectations from product companies and expect the best for their time and money. Therefore the following needs to happen to solve any hiccups in your product:

  1. Define the problem you’re solving for and how it contributes to the business and provides value for customers. Getting intimately familiar with this helps you prepare the questions you need to ask in advance.
  2. Gather any existing data from CRM services or analytics to spot changes in user behavior and have a benchmark to track progress.
  3. Form hypotheses on what drives their behavior. This would give you insights on how to figure out whether or not you understood the problem correctly and if there’s more to the matter.

As designers, we’re accustomed to doing as much problem definition in an effort to uncover pain points and challenges people have today while using our products and be the ones to have empathy for them. Building something in hopes it will solve a problem for your customer is a risk. Next up, I’ll take you through how you can run a test in-house.

Create a Guide or Agenda Prep

Some light-weight housekeeping will assist you in the process whether you’re conducting the study alone or with a colleague in-house. Given the complexity of a number of questions to be asked and information to be gathered, you’ll benefit from some sort of a guide to stay on track.

The guide or agenda you prepare will show signs of a confirmed list of the people who fit the personas you’re creating designs for. One great way to start is to write your “jobs to be done” and identify the goals for the user to complete with the designs you’re planning to put in front of the user.

Crafting your Prototype(s)

There are a variety of different ways you can create a prototype. The cost of a prototype can range from what you’re looking to learn and how much time you have for user testing. You’ll need to create one of these whether or not you plan to run the study in-house or off-site with a third party.

Design Firm IDEO has a saying that resonated really well with me in the past and always comes to mind…

If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.

Often times if you’re running low on time you could a lot of insights with some rapid prototyping tools and techniques. Some people do really simple things like paper prototypes. In reality, you should consider creating a higher fidelity prototype for bigger questions to be asked and require transitions designs to communicate them quicker.

In some cases, UX designers also add analytics tracking onto an Axure prototype and get extra data to work with. This would make a strong prototype to get the most learning you get from it. With your prototype being done you’ll be able to approach user testing from different angles.

Running the user test in-house, remote testing and internal dogfooding

So, you’ve recruited participants that fit your customers profile, prototype(s) done and you have a  plan in place to test in-house – now what? One of the most overlooked things moderators do not do is set expectations with their participants.

Do stress that it’s not an evaluation of them personally, but on being able to make sure the right problems and pain points are being addressed. One of the things that could drive happiness or motivate them on participating is mentioning the reward at the end. Folks have used things such as a meal, gift cards or company swag or all three of these. At this point, you want to preface the surface with your participant about what you’re looking to learn. Explain why it’s important and that this test is not an assessment of them but identifying if the design is truly solving a problem.

Another way to validate your designs would be to have folks within the same company outside of product design roles give your feedback. Recruit folks from marketing, customer service and more. Every thought counts.

Wrapping up test and what to do next

Teams often document key measurements they were looking for (both quantitive & qualitative) and highlight the key summaries in the style of a matrix chart or a powerpoint for project stakeholders and decision makers. Additional artifacts to include are trends in behavior, notes around why things are important to the user, or assumptions that were right or wrong should go into your document of choice.