What are the best ways to do user testing? Early and often.

First of all, this post will not be the definitive guide to user testing. Think of it more as a guide on how to start thinking about user testing, not as a task performed at the end of a project, but as integral to digital experience strategy and important at every stage of the process.

A thousand ways to die in the UX.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the larger and more complex a digital experience, the sooner you should start user testing. The point is not to rush a completed digital design into testing, but rather to test strategic assumptions, optimize interactions, and gain feedback all along the way. The point here is that UX design decisions rarely exist in a vacuum.

Interactions designed at point A inevitably affect how we create and optimize interactions at point B, C, D and so on. Errors don’t simply add up, they multiply. And if you never took the time to validate those point A decisions, the repercussions of any incorrect assumptions will have been distributed, and likely far more costly and time consuming to correct. So, when and how should you start your testing protocols? Day one, with a conversation.

Start lo-fi—and validate your assumptions.

Before we craft a design brief, we like to gather stakeholders for the project and document critical assumptions we hold about our users.

·      What needs are they attempting to satisfy with the digital property we are creating?

·      What do they see as a successful outcome of engaging?

·      What are their pain points?

·      What are their wish lists?

·      What are their best alternatives to engaging with your impending experience?

·      Why do they like or dislike those alternatives?

·      Do they prefer information displayed literally or abstractly, graphically or textually?

·      What environments, times of day, distractions do they associate with use?

·      If you have an existing experience, what does Google analytics tell you about the good, bad and ugly of the experience now?

Then we engage in conversations with users, either through focus groups or individual interviews, to validate (or not) those assumptions. Ultimately, you want to create a fulfilled understanding of what motivates your users to engage and convert, and what factors exist in their lives that might stifle that motivation.

Let users chew on the bones.

The design task in most complex digital experience projects is to decide how information will be organized, grouped and presented. The primary deliverable of that task is usually a low fidelity sitemap or a very basic set of static wireframes; when you want to test organization and interconnection, low fidelity is actually better than a high fidelity.

We have found, with adequate clear setting of expectations by the research moderator, users are generally good at mentally setting visuals aside and evaluating the informational relationships the sitemaps and wireframes represent. Ultimately, the earlier in the process users can uncover potential oddities or flat out mistakes in the information, or, more beneficially, highlight an overlooked opportunity, the better.

Test it to pieces.

As alluded to earlier in this post, as grand as the vision may be for any digital experience, success or failure rests in the hundreds or thousands of micro interactions that users encounter every day. Do those moments forward their journeys, hinder them, or worst of all, cause them to abandon them altogether.

User journeys aren’t really linear. So, as you’re designing and developing, start to make lists of every potential on ramp and off ramp. Refine that list into what you think might be the strongest opportunities for conversions and the most likely areas your users will abandon the experience.

Along the way, put those micro moments in front of users (especially if you’re proposing or developing an innovative new experience within those moments). That testing could be facilitated using in-person interviews or online using clickable prototypes. Either way, it ensures you create the most efficient and engaging paths to conversion for every user.

And you still need to examine the big picture.

Even after months of user testing and development, every site should still undergo thorough testing. You should create a testing plan that encompasses all potential areas to be reviewed: content, accuracy, defects and any production errors; specific user paths, goals and objectives to ensure they function as specified; conversion points for functioning connections to external systems; and general examination for errors of omission or previously undocumented bugs, etc. We won’t outline everything that goes into a proper testing plan here, but we cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be rigorous and methodical, and make no assumptions that even the most basic functionality works as desired. Just. Test. Everything.

When you design for elegance and functionality, you get loyalty thrown in.

By continually invoking the needs of the user in the development process, you’re more likely to design relevant, motivating and measurable user experiences, along the entire customer journey. And when you can do that, you’ll certainly see higher return on engagement.