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How to Run User Testing Fast and Cheap

User testing - yes or no? Teams don't often have enough time and resources for a proper user testing or neglect it over customer's feedback.

If the question about the need for user testing arises, the team should admit that it is the user who will suffer from usability inefficiencies, and it is up to them to seal the product's destiny on the market. Of course, customers hire teams and pay for the job to be done, but they are highly involved in the product as well. Some bugs can go (without them paying attention) by their attention simply because they have already seen the interface on many occasions.

That's why it is better to run even the simplest form of user testing to validate your product functionality before moving to the next development stage.

In our design department we suggest to start testing as soon as possible. You should run user test at every stage of the development, paying attention to sketches, wireframes, prototypes and clickable prototypes. Spotting a usability bug at an earlier stage will help you fix it with the minimum rebuilding of the whole structure.

The more designers work on the project, the more obsessed they become with their work. Staying objective is hard. No matter how innovative, complex, and cool solutions you implement, they will end up being worthless if the user doesn't know how to operate your design.

It makes user testing scary. It can kill all the hard work that has been done. Still, it's crucial. Many companies cannot afford hiring a skilled usability professional. Sometimes the release date is knocking at the door, and there is no time to run deep test sessions. Even if you feel like there is no time at all, some testing is still better than no testing.

How to run user testing when you lack time and resources?

In extreme cases you can try to run usability testing with test participants and resources you have in hands. Of course, we highly recommend to work with professionals and include user testing into each iteration. But again, any user testing is better than no testing at all.

If you decide to do the usability testing yourself follow these simple rules:

1. Don't involve the same people as test participants more than once. You need a fresh look at the usability during every testing session. It sounds tempting to test product with a certain circle of people who are already open to help, but it is not that efficient.

2. Don't get upset if you haven't discovered all bugs during one test session. You are not a professional tester and neither are the participants you are testing. After a few test sessions, you will most likely have to get rid of the most visible usability bugs.

3. Be patient with test participants. Avoid pressing them with questions. Try to play a therapist role. Ask questions instead of stating the facts. For example, if you are not sure what's the test participants' opinion, ask them about their opinion. If they look surprised but say nothing, ask them what has surprised them.

4. Make at least some documentation out of test session. Take notes, make audio or video records if it is possible, ask questions

It works because crucial bags are usually easy to spot when taking a fresh look. When you take a look at your work, you might not notice anything irrational about the usability simply because you know exactly how this or other function should work. So, you need somebody else to test it.

The only thing you should pay attention to is not to fall into the temptation of choosing, as test participants, people who are related to the project's development. They might be biased out of their passion to the product itself, with all its vulnerabilities.

Hallway Usability Testing

To run this kind of user testing you need to show your design to a random person you can meet in the office hallway. The only condition is that this person shouldn't be involved in your project. Using this method wouldn't let you test the product on your target audience as it is unlikely that you share the same hallway with them (but who knows). Still, it will help you disclose some major usability bugs and avoid the greatest mishaps.

In case Do-it-yourself usability testing domain knowledge is not that important. Usually, it has a very little to do with usability. Usability is about universal things like navigation, page layout, visual positioning, etc.

You can run the Hallway Usability Testing regardless of the development stage. To get the most of it ask your test participants questions about functionality like "Can you add the item to your wish list and delete it from there?" Simplify even more by asking what do they think this button should be responsible for. If they don't know or got it wrong, try it again with another person. If you've got the same answer from at least five people and it's negative, give this case a name of scenario and open a bottle of wine. You have just found a usability bug and have a chance to fix it.

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