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  • A Beginner's Guide to User Testing

    - Janessa Olson

  • What if I Don't Have Anything for the User to Test?

    No problem! You don't need a prototype to learn more about the people using your software. Going out and finding users in your target market is still a great opportunity to learn about their pain points, and how they're solving (or not solving) those pain points now. This will also help you start to get an idea of the types of personas your product should be targeting.

    Before I started to work on requirements for building a Magic: The Gathering app, I went to card shops and Magic: The Gathering Facebook groups and asked people how they organized their massive card collections (aka, the problem). I got a ton of feedback (including users identifying pain points), and from that feedback, started to see types of users who solved the problem in similar ways (which helped me create personas).

    When Should I Be User Testing?

    This sort of depends on whom you ask, but in my experience the general consensus from folks who've been doing this much longer than I have is "test early, test often." If you can't do that, or if you missed the "test early" boat, it's better to test at all (even if the product has been out for a while) than never!

    Remember: Sharing Is Caring

    Review your observations to the team at stand-up the next day, or type them up and share them in a document with your stakeholders. Keep it somewhere that's easy to access in case you want to review observations in a planning session. Think of it as another way you can evangelize for the customer.

    "It turns out the real treasure was the user testing we did along the way!" - Everyone who user tests

    Round It All Out with Data

    And here you thought I would let you get out of here without some kind of reference to data. You must not know 'bout me.

    In my experience, data is the proverbial peanut butter to the jelly that is user testing. It was thanks to data that I even knew something was amiss with the emails, and that I should probably go user test to investigate further. While it's not necessarily the worst thing in the world to simply hand your product to someone and watch them interact with it, if you know what areas your users are struggling in, you can then tailor your user testing to target those pain points.

    At Kongregate, we use Amplitude to look at how our players are interacting with Kartridge, and while it's quite possibly my favorite data companion I've yet to use (Pendo as a close second), data can only tell so much of a story. User testing can help round out data that you've collected and are looking at. For example, if you're noticing users taking a specific path in your data software but aren't sure why, watching a user flop around in your product could help add some clarity.

    User Testing Adventurers, Beware!

    While the benefits to user testing are seemingly endless, be careful to not get caught in these pitfalls:

    Testing users who are not your target market

    For example, if you're building a website to help a user find the perfect pair of jeans, and you user test someone who doesn't believe pants are real, their feedback might not be the most helpful to you (for a number of reasons).

    Testing users too close to the product (support, sales, other people working on the product, etc.)

    I'm not saying "don't get feedback from internal stakeholders," because you definitely should (this is called "dogfooding," and done correctly, it can be a helpful practice); just be careful to not test them exclusively. Your support and sales teams probably already have an idea of what they want the product to be, and they can speak with authority because they likely interact with one or two of your customer personas on the regular. While their input is valuable, remember it's one piece of the puzzle, not the entire picture.

    Testing with an ulterior motive, or to "prove" a point

    User testing, like any other kind of data, can be all too easily manipulated to say something you might want it to say, instead of what it just is. So if you find yourself in some kind of professional war with the office Dinkleberg, I recommend (for a number of reasons) finding some other way to bury the hatchet instead of manipulating data you gather from user testing to get your way.

    Most importantly, please remember: You don't know what you don't know

    Unless you have a lot of experience in user experience and design, you should always keep in mind that you are sticking a metaphorical toe into a vast metaphorical ocean. I recommend reading, listening, and talking to folks with a lot of experience in testing and research to further hone user testing for your product. If your company has the funds, hire a consultant or a firm, or even fill an entire new UX position with someone who's got the experience. And of course, practice!

    Helpful Resources to Get You Started

    "Don't Make Me Think!" and "Rocket Surgery Made Easy" by Steve Krug: My most favorite introduction to user testing in book form that I've ever read. Mostly because I love Mr. Krug's sense of humor, as it makes the book super easy and fun to read. Start here!

    Product Talk: Ran by Theresa Torres, a firm believer in user testing. Her site adds valuable Product Manager insight, such as Product Discovery.

    UserOnboard: This website, run by Samuel Hulick, examines how popular apps and websites handle their signup experiences. It's a cool opportunity to watch an experienced UX designer's train of thought.


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