Illustration by Avalon Hu
As our world has become more complex and noisy, companies are fighting harder for the attention of their (increasingly distracted) target audiences. If you want to succeed, you need to know what works for your users (and what doesn’t), and you need to know it as early as possible in the design process. That’s why user testing has become an absolutely essential part of improving the user experience of a product.
Why is user testing so important?
It’s great to have empathy, but it’s impossible to foresee any reaction users may have without the right information. When you carry out tests with real people — outside of your team — you’re able to gather invaluable data that you might otherwise never even have thought of. This can be an incredible tool for enhancing the UX of your digital product, giving customers exactly what they want, and keeping them engaged.
Here you’ll find everything you need to know about user testing. This page will dig deep into the science of user testing and will help you test with real users, whatever your goals, budget, and resources. Before we dig into the details, let’s look at the main user testing methods, essential steps for carrying out user testing, and when to use automated and manual testing.
User testing methods
There are a lot of different types of user testing that have been developed to include the user in the decision-making process. Let’s go over the main ones, when you should use them, and why:
One way to test your product is to actually watch and track somebody using it. It’s essential to user experience, as you get a very good understanding of how a user, ideally outside of your bubble, experiences your website or app.
Usability testing can either be moderated in person or unmoderated remotely. Moderated testing that allows you to watch participants in real time and communicate with them about their experience can be especially useful in the design phase, when you’re investigating the reasoning behind user behaviors. As you can still tweak the prototype, you can save a lot of precious design and development time by incorporating their feedback.
When you carry out tests with real people — outside of your team — you’re able to gather invaluable data that you might otherwise never even have thought of.
Unmoderated testing, meanwhile, is done without direct supervision and offers quick, robust, and inexpensive results. It’s best used to test a very specific question or observe and measure behavior patterns — this offers the advantage that participants complete tasks in their own environment and on their own devices. It also allows you to test large numbers of people around the world using fewer resources, which can be used to validate findings from moderated research.
Another way to test a UI is to set up a moderated focus group of around six to 12 users and discuss issues and concerns for about two hours. Whether they take place before the product has been designed or after its release, a focus group can help discover what users really want.
When your product is nearly complete and you want to carry out one last review before launch, sharing it with a select group of people and beta testing it is a great way to get critical feedback, track usage, and compile bug reports. It helps you make any last-minute changes, refine the design, and enhance the user experience.
When you’re undecided between different versions of a design, A/B testing can help you understand which one best meets your users’ needs. Splitting your test participants into groups and reviewing the analytics of the test is a good way to detect small differences and determine what’s easier to use and gets more clicks and conversions.
If you want to gather a lot of feedback about your product with minimal time and effort, surveys are a great way to ask users a wide range of questions, no matter where they’re based. Just create your survey using one of the many tools available, send out an email to ask people to fill out the survey online, and analyze the data from the responses you receive. This is especially useful as a follow-up to usability testing and when testing a new feature.
For a deeper dive check out The Top 5 User Testing Methods, which explains when and how to use them in more detail.
How to conduct user testing
To successfully carry out user testing, you need to go through several steps. First, define and outline your testing goals. Decide on what you want to test and the whole purpose of your study. Then define the metrics for the test sessions. These can include the success rate (whether users can perform the task at all), the time a task requires, the error rate, and user satisfaction.
Once you’ve selected the relevant testing techniques, based on metrics you’ve decided on (as described above), it’s time to write out test scenarios and plans. These consist of asking participants to perform an action or carry out a task on the website or app that’s being tested as if they were real users. Scenarios require the context of a realistic situation to really encourage engagement.
Then you need to find participants to complete the test. Whatever the method of user testing you’ve chosen, these participants should ideally be real customers and members of your target audience that fit the personas you’ve created. To do this, you can make use of your existing customer database if you have one already, your social media networks, referrals from employees, or you can sign up for a user testing service.
Finally, you need to collect and analyze your results. Review the conclusions given by multiple participants and decide which ones you want to incorporate into your product and prioritize them. Compile errors and divide them into critical and non-critical ones. Organize your findings into actionable takeaways that can help you improve your product and share them with stakeholders.
You can either use automated testing, with scripted tests that have been written beforehand and run automatically, or manual testing, in which you execute the test cases and generate test reports by hand.
Automated testing saves you a lot of time and is especially useful when you have limited resources and want to eliminate human error. Manual testing, on the other hand, can be carried out without any coding knowledge and is especially useful when you want to test the user interface and the usability of the product. It requires more time and effort but is the foundation for automated testing. By carrying out manual tests in real-life scenarios, you can uncover bugs and issues that automated tests simply wouldn’t be able to catch.
Nothing beats testing with real people
The value of user testing can’t be overestimated. Once you’ve decided on your project goals and the types of metrics you want to collect, choose the testing method and tool that best suit your need to gather the most valuable feedback. If done right, this helps you iterate and enhance your product at any stage of the design process, which in turn can save you a lot of time and money and increase conversions. The more you understand your users, the more you improve your entire business. It’s as simple as that.
Illustration courtesy of Avalon Hu.