I am a huge fan of user testing. It gives you the magical ability to look into a user’s mind, confirm (or deny) the decisions you made as a Product Designer, and get a glimpse of what real people will do with your product. Plus, it helps catch issues at the onset that people too close to the product (read: clients and product teams) can’t spot with their view.
Unfortunately, user testing often gets sacrificed because clients or product teams don’t see its value. As much as I champion it on every project, here is some of the most common pushback I hear:
- User testing isn’t a good use of time and budget.
- The product is already “figured out.”
- Nothing new will be learned from user testing.
But I believe that skipping user testing leaves valuable insights on the table that are much more expensive and time-consuming to change once you release the product into the world. Users are not you or your team. Product teams build what they think will be the best experience for the user, but you don’t know if you’ve created the absolute best version until you get it in front of them.
Here are three invaluable reasons why you should include user testing in your next project.
#1 Myth: User testing is expensive.
When done throughout the product design process, user testing saves time and money. It is easier and less expensive to update features, interfaces, user flows — pretty much everything — during the design phase than to rip apart code and rebuild it during the engineering phase.
For example, we tested a design prototype on a recent interactive mapping project, and user feedback led us to move a UI element from the bottom of the screen to the top. At this stage in the product design, we easily moved the UI element in the design file and released it to engineering. Sounds pretty simple right? When you catch it early on, it is for designers, engineers, and ultimately, the client.
User testing also allows you to quickly and cheaply test out multiple versions of screens, workflows, colors, interfaces, and more. On the same interactive mapping project, the product team had done a few rounds of color palettes. We were a bit divided on what palette would work best, so we put the preferred palette in front of users to get their reaction. We don’t simply grant user wishes (product mistake #5), but their perspective is a useful tool that can help the team make the best decision for the product.
#2 Myth: User testing won’t uncover anything new.
Every time I do user testing, I uncover things that aren’t working or could be better. Every. Single. Time.
For example, on a recent consumer-facing mobile app, users told us that the type size was too small for low-vision users, and the login screen was confusing. User testing also helped us discover that users were skipping the map section of the app because they didn’t have enough context to understand the maps or what to do with them. We took all of this feedback, updated the designs, and made the product work better for the user.
On our MTA project, user testing uncovered a specific content type for planned work alerts that we didn’t know existed. Our team had done a month’s worth of research and interviews, and this information didn’t come to light because the content type was so specialized that no one on the client side thought to mention it. When we user-tested the app, users saw they couldn’t create this special content type and flagged it, allowing us to add it to the product and dodge a time-consuming fix at the end of our timeline.
#3 Myth: User testing will slow things down or create thrash.
On the MTA Mercury project, user testing enabled us to build a better application but it also built momentum, excitement, and trust around the product.
Before testing, the application was an abstract idea that management supposed would make the users’ (in this case, MTA employees) jobs better. But the MTA’s teams didn’t know how it would work and if it would work and meet their needs. Through user testing, we brought the application to the team and let them experience it. They could see that the product was tailored to their workflows and would help them do their job faster and easier than what they had now. They loved that we wanted to hear their feedback and include them in molding the application.
Suddenly, what we were building for them was no longer an abstract idea. User testing made the application real. Users could easily see the value of the application, get excited, and champion it to the rest of the team.
Clients who forgo user testing are missing out on a simple and powerful tool that can help build an awesome product the first time around. As a client, product owner, or product designer, you have ideas of what will work best for your users, and sometimes that is true. But user testing checks you and your team’s assumptions and gives the user a voice to tell you what they want. What could be more valuable than that?
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