The What, When, and Why of User Testing

Successful digital experiences solve users’ problems before they know they have them. Whether it’s how users should navigate through the website to find the info they need, or if they need to move through an easy and intuitive ecommerce path, understanding the user experience is vital to the growth of your business.  

User testing allows organizations to understand how users interact with their website and other digital experiences by asking them. But rather than an anecdotal conversation or the output of a too-small sample group, user testing offers a framework for who to ask, what to ask them, and how to translate results into actionable optimizations. Let’s look more into user testing and why it’s such a valuable tool. 

What is User Testing? 

Simply put, user testing is a way of validating design and strategy decisions through the eyes of a user. We always keep our user’s needs and motivations front and center, but everyone has a little bit of bias that they are unaware of. User testing is a great way to get insight from outside voices before you’ve committed and are too far down the path to adjust.  

There are different ways to conduct user testing. Some are heavyweight like focus groups and 1:1 interviews. Others are lightweight like looking through your clickstream data and seeing what users are interacting with to inform your decision making. Your objective, resources, and hypotheses will inform which form of user testing you implement. 

When to Start User Testing? 

Short answer, always. Ongoing user testing is key in answering the changing needs of consumers and validating that your website or product still meets those needs. That said, here are three milestones to check in on your user testing plan: 

  • At the start of a project. User testing should always be part of the conversation at project intake: whether preliminary user tests are needed to validate a hypothesis, or whether a plan needs to be implemented for ongoing testing throughout the lifecycle. 
  • After prototyping: Bringing users in to interact with a prototype before time and resources are devoted to the build allows a team to adjust and ensure that what they are building will solve their users’ needs. 
  • Post-launch: Verify that the result still serves users, functions correctly, and remains accessible to all users through post-launch testing.  

Selecting the right time to conduct user testing really depends on the individual project and what product or platform the project is for. For example, say you’re in the third stage evolution of a product and you’ve been routinely conducting user testing throughout and you have a hypothesis you want to put into practice. Don’t test at the start. Build something, then test it. But if you’re at the start of a project and have the challenge in front of you, user testing is a great way to round out the thing you’re trying to solve at the start. 

Why Conduct User Testing? 

User testing can give a great deal of insights and recommendations that an internal team may not get on their own, and it can be done at a wide range of budgets and investment hours. There are user tests that produce quantitative data such as clickstream tests through tools like Google Analytics. While others, like user groups, interviews, and surveys, provide qualitative data that fill in knowledge gaps. 

User testing can be overwhelming to invest in because instead of a clear deliverable, it results in reports and synthesis. But the only way to make a well-rounded experience for users is to talk to them, to understand how they use the project or platform – keeping in mind that consumer behaviors change frequently and with increasing rapidity, and the best experiences are the ones that adapt to their needs. Staying on top of how people are using what you designed, if they’re using it the way that it’s intended, allows you to proactively make a better experience for them along the way.  

Curious if user testing is right for you? Contact us to discuss how it can benefit your organization.

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