You can’t do UX without the user. Sounds simple. Should be obvious. But ask yourself “Do I consider the user in every decision that is relevant to them? Do I make assumptions on what I think I know about the user, or do I really know what the users want, what motivates them, what fears they have or what they want to accomplish?” More often than not, assumptions become fact. We base complex decisions on these assumptions and design solutions to problems that in all honesty, are probably answering business needs rather than true user problems. How do we break the cycle? User testing and real data.
What’s probably most important is setting a clear objective to your tests. When you really understand what you want to achieve, then you can work out what kind of test is required. There a loads of different types of test and all come with pros and cons. Need some data fast? Guerrilla test. Need to fully understand user motivations and behaviours? Get in the lab. Want volume? Try a remote, unmoderated online test. Don’t want any data other than that from your real users? Split test on a live site.
The second most important thing about testing – make sure your prep is spot on. You know what you want to test, so work out the best way of doing it. Paper prototypes are fine if they will get you what you need. Likewise, an all singing, all dancing axure prototype with beautiful animations and real data is the perfect solution if realism is what you need. If the user test is in the lab, get your recruitment right for the features you want to observe. Work on a script and test it out with colleagues before you conduct the test. If you are attacking it guerrilla style, then understand what tasks you want the user to complete and create a couple of scenarios that will ensure that all tasks are communicated without actually saying “find and click this button”. Also, be prepared for the unexpected. This could be having a prototype backup or being flexible with your test. If you aren’t achieving what you set out to do, then mix it up and make sure the test turns out to be effective.
Done your test? Time to pat yourself on the back and head home right? Wrong. As soon as you have completed what you set out to do, get every tester and every observer and discuss through what you have seen. Identify key themes from your tests, especially pain points. Make sure everything ties back to your objectives for the test. Are you answering the right questions? If not, why not. Document everything!
The whole point of user testing is to create actionable next steps. Finding things that will allow you to iterate, improve and push to the next level, so your reporting should be easily understood and communicated to everyone involved. Don’t wait a couple of weeks. Get it out asap while the knowledge and understanding is fresh. For this reason, don’t fuss over a beautifully designed report. Create one template that can be used over and over, contains key test information about your participants and isn’t a complete bore to read (I send mine out to the whole business so I need to be as punchy as possible without spending too much time on it).