‘User testing’ can apply to a product at any point in its lifecycle and can be tackled in a number of ways. When we are asked to run user testing, we always stop to interrogate the objectives, as they will provide the evidence needed to determine the research method. Broadly, we find that user testing is used at these stages of a product lifecycle:

Exploring usability: When products are live, to unearth usage issues and pain points for improvement

Improving a prototype: At the earliest stage of development, to understand how users interact with new designs. This is usually an iterative exercise using sprints.

Validating changes in live: When improvements have been released, we employ user testing at scale to provide evidence of return on investment

The range of research methods

Many companies fall into a pattern of using one approach – usually the f2f user test in a lab. It is the default approach and obviously works well, as there is nothing like seeing the whites of a customer’s eyes, but there are other approaches that can be more relevant:

Face to face: Users are invited to a facility and observed as they use products on any given device. The skill here is to watch as users progress, as well as listen to what users say. Great for improving prototypes.

Remote, unmoderated: By clicking on links, users can start testing products at home without the research being present. We use companies like User Zoom or User Testing, allowing for video capture of usage. Maze provides usage metrics if that is what is required. Great for validating changes in live at scale.

Remote, moderated: As above, but with the researcher interacting on a video link. The main benefit is that researchers can ask questions spontaneously, reacting to issues they have. Great for exploration.

In-situ user testing: We love testing products in situ. This usually relates to products that are in retailers – interfaces that need to be adaptable to many kinds of user types. Intercepting customers as they use products has to be one of the most insightful ways to research interfaces. Great for exploration.

Biometric testing: Eye tracking, Galvanic Skin Response and Facial Coding are lab-based techniques that provide nonconscious evidence of visual attention and emotional involvement in products. Great for exploration and improvement. You can read more here.

When user testing isn’t the answer

Sometimes we will push back on a request for user testing. It’s usually because the objectives focus on the visual design of products; looking for thoughts, feelings and opinions, rather than behaviour.

When there are a number of visual designs under consideration, the 1-2-1 nature of user testing has a distinct problem – over stimulation. People become confused and struggle to express themselves and make decisions on their own.

For visual design, a discussion group is more productive. Showing designs to groups of relevant users creates debate and people become more confident in their views about what they prefer.

Researching with total confidence

Knowing how to approach user testing is both art and science. If the right research method(s) are used it can make the difference between findings that have little relevance to project needs, or insights and recommendations that move the project forward with total confidence.