Written by Steve Johnson
Jun 28, 2017

User knows best

How to undertake effective user testing to help you deliver the best user experience.

The Good Ol' Days

Back in my early days as a programmer, I was armed with an Acorn Electron running BBC BASIC and Assembler, with only 32k at my disposal.

The software I wrote was tailored specifically for its lone user - me. Bugs notwithstanding, it was a perfect user experience!

A few years later, I was rocking an Amiga 1200 with AmiBASIC.

While everyone else was playing and writing games, I was authoring an accounts package for my best mate’s dad.

It took me ages to explain how to use it, and the after-service gave me a tech support headache! I was having to talk him through functions I thought were obvious! Why wasn’t he getting it?

The death of technophobia 

It was the 80s then, and we could put it down to technophobia. Nowadays technology is ubiquitous and those old excuses don’t work anymore.

Moreover, ‘User Experience’ (UX) is not confined to laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

It defines everything we interact with; from parking machines, ATMs, and washing machines, to doors, road signs, and product packaging.

If we use it, we UX it. And with stiff competition across all industries, it’s important for everyone to get on the bandwagon.

One of the best ways is by observing how a user interacts with a product or service.

You can try this at home

Let’s imagine for a moment you’ve installed a door.

The door opens away from you, but you’ve fitted a handle on the side that you’re standing. Now sit back and watch a few people go through your door.

You’ll see them arrive and pull on the door, then after a moment, they’ll realise it’s not a pull-to-open door and try pushing instead.

This is what we call a UX fail, and as you go about your daily life, you’ll find plenty of examples of this exact scenario.

"If we use it, we UX it"

How it applies to a developer (onto the process)

As a developer at an app agency, I’m using one of our recent user testing sessions as an example. However, whatever your background, if you’re responsible for delivering a product or service, the underlying sentiments apply as much to you as they do me.

Our setup

Our setup is simple; we find a selection of people who fit the demographic of the app we want to evaluate, offer them an incentive (Amazon vouchers always go down well) and invite them to visit our office at different times of the day.

One of our crew meets, greets and guides each user through the process, while the rest of us (including the client whose product we are testing) hide in a sealed bunker with an A/V feed of the user, a video stream of the device being used and the biggest pile of Post-it notes and snacks.

The user is given a problem to solve using the app and asked to verbalise their thoughts as they do so. Unless they get really stuck, we keep quiet, allowing them to trial and error their way through; observing the results.

What we (and the client) get out of it

The feedback is invaluable. We quickly see what works well, learn the areas where we assumed a user interaction would be intuitive but missed the mark, and understand more of what makes people tick.

It also reminds us that someone picking up our work hasn’t the insider knowledge that we do. They probably don't see that nifty bit of UI problem-solving as anything other than a confusing hinderance.

No more assumptions

Hand on heart, this exercise has helped me hone my development skills.

It's brought me a greater appreciation of the role of designers and made me think twice before assuming certain user interactions will be intuitive. Indeed, even that there should be only one way to access the same information.

The action from this process is to come up with a set of tasks to improve the UX and set about developing the changes. It’s a sure-fire way to improve your app ratings and get those compliments flooding in!

tl; dr:

By observing someone who has never used your app or website before trying to make use of it, you can learn whether your product soars or sucks.

Learn from the user and make regular changes to your product to build on retention and user loyalty.

If you’d like to try your hand at User Testing (we’ll bribe you with Amazon vouchers!) or if you’d like to find out how to get your app or website user tested, please contact us.

 

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