I think the title says it all. User testing is something that is unbelievably valuable, but is often overlooked. I’m not entirely sure if people don’t see the value, if they assume that because we did an in depth discovery that everything will work out, or if they think that any improvement is good enough. But I will say that as a professional and a perfectionist, I don’t like to stop until I know what I built works.
User testing is used to validate your ideas. This isn’t limited to just functionality, but also other elements like labeling conventions, style, layout, and more. Your ideas should be based off of all the research you did to prepare for the project, but all the research in the world can’t really guarantee that what you did will work in the wild. Another great aspect of this process is how it forces you to become removed from the actual work. This is something that becomes more difficult the more you become immersed in a project. It’s like having a set of fresh eyes proofread your paper. You can look at something a hundred times, and not see the mistake right in front of you.
Where User Testing Comes In
This isn’t something that is done at a specific point every time. In fact, it can be done at one or many points throughout the entirety of the project. It's great to validate your assumptions at every stage, if possible. I have done testing on site maps, high fidelity prototypes, and final designs. Even early on, doing AB testing to see what gets the best response is a great way to help guide your decisions that can affect the direction of your site. Doing this early and often is a great way to prevent going too far down the wrong path and having to redo work that should have been done the first time, or following wrong assumptions and creating a final product that just doesn’t work.
How to Do User Testing
You can do this in a bunch of different ways. AB testing of different options is one of the best, but you don’t always need to do things with that much detail. These can be as simple as getting opinions on language, navigation, or style, or as intricate as watching every aspect of a user’s behavior to get insights on how your ideas are working. It depends on what you are trying to figure out. Regardless of how intricate you get, any user testing is better than no user testing.
Another great thing about user testing is that it does not require a lot of people. One of the hesitations a client might have is the assumption that you need dozens of people to complete this. In reality, there have been studies that say as little as five users can be good enough. The logic being that with more than five, you get less return. It also can be anyone. They don’t need any prior knowledge of the project. It’s even better to get people with no knowledge of what you are building so they are totally thrown into the wild with no context. That way you get the purest form of feedback. Using fewer people also makes getting this feedback way more affordable.
User testing can also be done after the project. You can use analytics to infer what pages are performing and what pages are not. You can then take this observation, and do a few different things with it. You can test the page to see where users are going wrong. This will give you some insight to influence your new ideas (which you can also user test). Another option is if you see the page just isn’t working, you can start redesigning the page right away and test that by either getting user feedback or AB testing it with the old page (you can even add more variations to see which ideas work). This way you can make continuous improvements on your site without redoing the whole thing.
In the end, you are putting a lot of time and money into your new site. This is why user testing is so important. Your site is the face of your organization, and it needs to be as close to perfect as possible to build your credibility and retain visitors. Remember, it’s 2016. If users are frustrated, they will leave without hesitation and find something else that is easy for them. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen.