User testing: You reap what you sow

user testing

User testing in the digital development cycle

User testing is an important part of the digital development process. It is the only way to be absolutely certain that the interface you have developed actually works for the users it was designed for. Anything less than actual user testing will result in sub-optimal performance which is why even for our expert review service the methodology allows user video sessions to be incorporated.

As digital skills develop there is an increasing risk that design decisions will go untested with users because the perception is that the designer knows what they are doing. Providing they stick with best practice that is a reasonable assumption to make. Certainly when we are user testing websites the majority of the issues we identify are due to deviation from best practice.

Even if a client specifies that they want a website that complies with best practice can they be certain that is will work for their user population? We recently tested a website for a UK retailer and despite many of the users displaying quite advanced internet skills none of them knew that the client logo was a link to the Homepage. That kind of finding is hard to believe and it is why user testing is so important – it challenges our assumptions.

Despite digital permeating every aspect of our lives it is an industry still in its infancy. The evolution of the web and of people’s behaviours has been rapid and so despite ‘so called’ good and best practice developing no one can have complete knowledge. For example:

  • the iPad was launch only 3 ½ years ago
  • in terms of user behaviour shift we now regularly see that the ipad is the first device used to connect to the internet for one of the fastest and most lucrative user groups – old people.
  • Does anyone completely understand how this group of people interact online?
  • How much user testing with this group has there even been?

And putting best practice aside for a moment, what if the designer wants to be a little more creative? Or the client is calling for something innovative to make their digital property stand out from the crowd? Given the vanilla design of many sites within sectors (retail, travel, financial services etc.) alongside the need to create a differentiating experience this would not be an unreasonable request.

User testing is more affordable than you think

One of the major barriers to commissioning user testing has been the price. It was not uncommon in the early 2000’s to be asked to pay upwards of £15,000 for a fully specified set of user testing sessions. A minimum of 8 participants per user type was required and for diverse audiences this could mean days of user testing and tens of thousands of pounds out of the development budget. It is no surprise that when the red pen was required, user testing got cut.

What we have discovered over time is that we can learn a significant amount form user testing with just 5 participants. Or from cross-checking our expert review assumptions by adding user video sessions or key tasks. These two approaches allow us to carry out user testing for well under £5,000 and brings it into the scope of many projects.

User testing is a crucial activity toward understanding whether a digital interface works for the people it was designed to be used by. To learn more about the ways you can bring user testing into your development programme contact UX24/7 today

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