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User Research and Testing

But why organize user research, if you know your clients well and if you are convinced you know exactly what they want? Because practice shows that this knowledge tends to be rather superficial.

User Research and Testing

Source: Dilbert.com

Source: Dilbert.com

Whenever you launch a new digital solution, whether it is a website, application, or anything else, it is important to understand the motivations, needs and "pains" of people who will finally use this solution. With user research, you gain insight into how people use digital environments, how they find their way in it, and how easily they will do what will take them to their objective. If you have this information and work with it already at the stage of designing a site or application it reduces the risk of failing later on.


Why Invest in User Research?

Last year's US research of Forrester shows that a well-designed user interface can increase the conversion ratio (user's ability to perform the desired action) up to 200% and a good UX design up to 400%.

The purpose of such research is not to ask people what they want and what they like, but to find out how they're able use your digital solution to resolve an issue they may have. People often want what they know or have seen somewhere, but it has to be you (or you along with the supplier company specialists) who will come up with the real innovation. Yet, innovation itself will not automatically mean success. It is crucial that your solution is accepted and adopted by people.

User research involves various methods for different stages of the project. For instance, one of the popular methods is in-depth interview. As the name suggests, this method gathers thorough data about the participants and thus your prospective users. Through a narrative interview, the researcher learns about participant's experiences and gets insight into his/her life - what troubles them, and how and when they use sites or applications of this type. Sometimes it's useful to observe people carrying out the activities they need help with (for example, issuing an invoice). This gathered data is then used to design the specific solution.

When we need to design a more complex structure of information, we can use, for instance, the method of card sorting. The participants categorize a set of cards (information); this way users roughly suggest how to design your solution – which takes you to the ideal situation, when your work ‘is being done by others ‘ (naturally, you still have to do the job of applying it right).

Source: Lundegaard

Source: Lundegaard


You Know How to Go About It, but Will Users Be Really Able to Use it?


UX (User Experience) refers to a person's emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service.
UX designer is a specialist, who designs and manages the design process, typially in user interface.

Source: paraphrased from Wikipedia

What if you have already done the research, got some insights, and slowly started to work on the proposed solution? How can you know people will be able to use what you are developing? Here comes into play web or application usability, i.e. so called user testing. Iterative approach, ideally in conjunction with prototyping the product, will get you better results than if you just hoped you would "hit it right on the nail the first time round". 


Rapid Prototyping, i.e. production of fast and partially functional models, is much less expensive than developing a whole new solution. Each phase of the project focuses on one part of the solution, such as a new accident insurance concluding engine. Your UX designer will make this part for you through so-called wireframes (simplified designs of solutions primarily focusing on the distribution of elements on the page or in an application without emphasis on graphics). UX designers use various tools - from pencil with paper to sophisticated tools such as Axure RP.

Based on the collected output you can edit the application, add graphic design and make so-called High-Fidelity prototype. This time you can use, for instance, InVision and then you can continue this way until you are happy with how your regular users perceive your solution.

Source: Lundegaard

Source: Lundegaard

It is important to realize that your solution is primarily being designed for people. If they are not able to use it, they will probably not like your product and thus won’t buy, renew their subscription etc. Yet, you don’t need to have a finished web to do testing. You can test just screen or process designs, and this way reveal issues already early in the development.

User Testing Rules

Keep in mind you are testing a proposed solution, not the user. If the participant struggles with anything, it is down to a bug in the design, and it is not about the user. It may seem hard at first, but it’s not. You let them perform real tasks using the app and watch them how they tackle them. Don’t give participants hints how to resolve the task, and follow the below rules.

What do you need for user testing?
Design or a complete part of the solution.
• A few participants – your target group, users of your web or application, who can reveal errors in usability.
• A test facilitator, who assigns tasks and leads the entire testing process.
• A recorder, who records what happens during testing and to which parts to come back later (if you record the testing and evaluate it using recordings).

How is it supposed to be done?
1. Prepare a solution you want to test.
2. Write down a few realistic examples of scenario solutions use.
3. Invite people from your target group - test participants.
4. Assign them tasks and observe how they complete them.
5. Let participants talk during testing about what they are doing and what they are thinking about. The more the participants speak without your interventions, the better. But spare them your hints
6. Finally, evaluate what the participants struggled with most.
7. Fix the issues and repeat. It is better to test with fewer people but regularly. 

User testing is the standard these days; and, you shouldn’t launch websites without it. It should ideally be done in several iterations, the outputs of which should be clearly reflected in the edits of the application. Cooperation and good communication of UX specialists and developers of the final solution are therefore absolutely imperative. Agile development methodologies help assist with this - but we will talk about those next time. If you are interested in user research and testing, you can find a few books on the topic at the end of the article, which can keep you busy until the next article is issued.

  • Steve Krug: Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
  • Erika Hall: Just Enought Research
  • Goodman E., Kuniavsky M.: Observing the User Experience

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