So, you’ve created something – a new website, an online form, a piece of content – now it’s time to do some user testing to see whether what you’ve done meets the needs of your users.
There are a few types of usability tests you can run, but here I’m going to cover the top tips you should know when conducting one-on-one user testing.
Following these simple simple tips will improve the quality of your tests and help you generate better insights, which means better design iterations and better end results.
Here’s the slide deck and the article follows:
1. Use enough people
In a study by the Nielson Norman Group, it was found that, in order to find the top 80% of issues, you should test with 5 users.
Once you surpass 5 users, you enter the land of diminishing returns where you’ll have to test a with a lot more users in order to gain less and less insight. There’s not much point in putting yourself through the trouble.
The graph below is ‘borrowed’ from Nielson Norman and shows how much insight you’ll get from testing with increasing user numbers.
The aim of any usability test isn’t for you to take part. It’s to observe how users behave and interact with the thing you’re testing.
Your role should be one of little involvement. You’re just there to set up the scenario, observe the behaviour and ask the right questions. Nothing more.
3. Be prepared
People’s time is valuable, so don’t waste it. When your user turns up, be ready to roll straight away. Some of the things you’ll need to prepare include:
- A reliable internet connection. This sounds obvious, but the amount of times I’ve been mid-session and the WiFi drops is shocking. Make sure you’ve got a stable connection and, if you’re in a public space, check the WiFi beforehand.
- A familiar computer. Again, sounds obvious, but if you’re testing a bus pass application with a load of 70 year old, blue haired nannas and you rock up with a Macbook and trackpad, you may as well not bother. You’ll need a computer that people can use. A Windows computer or laptop is the safe bet. If you have to use a Mac, take note of the next point:
- A separate mouse and keyboard. If you’re using a laptop, Macbook or Mac, have a traditional USB mouse and keyboard with you. Some people are happy using the built-in keyboard and Apple gear, but some aren’t. Either way, you’re better off being on the safe side.
- A quiet space. Interruptions and distractions don’t help your user’s concentration. Once you break that concentration, it can be difficult to get them back ‘in the zone’. Make sure you’ve got a quiet space where you can be uninterrupted and make sure there aren’t any fire drills planned.
4. Have a full end-to-end journey
There’s nothing worse than watching someone interact with a product that lacks some of the basic features – dead links, blank pages, missing functionality. They get frustrated and begin to loose confidence in what they’re doing. They loose trust in the product and start hesitating. Once they start hesitating, they stop acting naturally and you loose them.
Make sure you’ve got something good enough for them to actually use.
5. Use genuine users
Sometimes, you might get away with using friends, family or colleagues, but only for the fundamentals of a new design. Once they’re accustomed to how something works, they stop thinking about it. They start using workarounds to compensate for flaws. They start learning terminology and jargon.
Use genuine users that are representative of a typical customer. That’ll make sure you gain a proper understanding of how they think and whether what you’ve done meets their needs.
#UserTesting tip 5. Use genuine users – colleagues are too close to the product to be objective.Click to tweet
6. Reassure them
We’re not testing people’s ability here. It’s not a test of your user’s internet and computer skills or technical knowledge. We’re testing the system, website, content or ‘thing’ we’ve assumed is useful. Make sure they know that.
You’ll never stop people saying things like “maybe it’s just me” or “have I done something wrong”, but it’s important to reassure them so they’re aware that they’re not being assessed.
7. Record the evidence
Video evidence is powerful. Whenever you run any one-on-one user testing session, make sure you capture the screen, webcam and audio recording. It’s useful for all kinds of things like:
- Documenting insights. If you miss something or can’t make notes quick enough, you can just make a little note of the time and hop straight there when you’re evaluating your session afterwards.
- Document your learning. It’ll help you create case studies and show the ‘before’ aspect of your work. It’s a baseline from which to compare future iterations and studies.
- Arguing your case. Sometimes, service managers and senior staff think they know best when it comes to digital stuff. People always have a personal opinion. Ultimately, those opinions don’t matter providing your solutions does the job for the user. If you’re not careful, you can waste time debating the colour of a bike shed. Having video evidence removes this conflict of opinions and shows actual evidence of real people struggling (or not). The conversation stops being about who’s right and starts becoming about fixing what really matters.
- Securing budget for further testing. User testing isn’t always the cheapest of ventures. You’ve got to either bring someone in to do it, which is costly, or do it yourself, which is costly (when you consider finding and enticing users, taking a day out to run the sessions and another day or so to evaluate the results). Building up your evidence base and documenting your learning and insights will help you demonstrate the value of doing such things, which can help strengthen your case to carry on or do more.
Tools for screen/webcam recording:
8. Don’t put words in people’s mouths
If you ask ‘would it be better if…’ you’ll get a ‘yes’ response. If you suggest ‘what about if we…’ you’ll get the same.
The issue with putting ideas in people’s heads is that, even if it’s a good idea, the user might not imagine it the same as you describe it. Even how you describe it might not be how it’ll work in practice.
Hypothetical ‘what if’s’ can lure you into a false sense of security in thinking that they’re genuine bits of user feedback, when really it’s self validation.
Them telling us is much more valuable than us feeding them.
#UserTesting tip 8. Don’t put words in peoples mouths. Them telling us is more valuable than us feeding them.Click to tweet
9. Don’t give hints
This is hard to avoid. When you see someone struggling and getting more and more frustrated, you’re dying to tell them ‘just press Submit’ or ’Scroll down a bit’ or ‘IT’S RIGHT THERE!!’
It’s painful watching, but you’ve got to let them struggle. That’s the only way we can gain insight and it makes for great learning and sterling evidence.
10. Don’t defend what you’re testing
Your users don’t need to know why things are as they are. They don’t care if it’s an ‘Alpha’, a ‘Beta’ or anything in between. They don’t care if your back office system won’t let you show them data or if there’s interdepartmental silos or government legislation that prevents you from being able to do something. They literally don’t care.
They’re openly airing their views and sharing their oblivious thoughts. Defending what you have shuts that door. It eventually prevents them from sharing at all. What’s the point?
We need to hear their objective thoughts, no matter how hard it is for us to take and regardless of whether we can do anything about it. Let them speak.
Bonus Tip: Ask open questions
Try to avoid closed questions – those with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. They don’t give you much to go on. Instead, ask open questions that encourage the user to share.
Some examples of good questions are:
- ‘Can you explain your thoughts on X?’
- ‘Is there a particular reason why you did X?’
- ‘What are you thinking right now?’
- ‘How does this make you feel?’
These kind of questions will prompt your user to open up and reveal more, which is the aim of the game.
Putting it into practice
Some of the points in this article are easier to put into practice than others. Some things, you can do tomorrow. Others will take practice, patience and planning, but they’re all within reach.
If you’re just getting started, you can use this article as a checklist when organising and conducting your sessions.
If you’re already conducting regular user testing, then pick out the things that will help you improve your efforts and give them a go.