What is User Testing? A Step-by-Step Guide for Business Owners

Every product or piece of software you buy has been tested. The car you drive is likely to be very different from the first model the manufacturer created. 

What works in your mind and then in design might not work in real-life and even great inventions of the past and present will have been through extensive user testing.  

James Dyson is famously quoted for creating 5,127 prototypes before the final version of his global success hit the shelves. The Dyson vacuum wasn’t an overnight success or a perfect working example right away. 

Thomas Edison and his team tested more than 3,000 designs for light bulbs between 1878 and 1880 before finally filing a patent in November 1879 for an electric lamp with carbon filament.

Design is important; testing is paramount. 

When it comes to mobile apps and websites, user testing is just as important. Even the most experienced of developers can miss things or simply not see how the end user will use the software because they’re too immersed in the process. Or they’re technical and don’t see how ‘normal’ people view things!

How many times have you been on a website or app to find it simply doesn’t perform how you’d like it to, or how you’d expect? 

You probably get frustrated with buttons that seem to be in the wrong place or gestures that make no sense? 

Apple removed their home button with the launch of the iPhone X and although this might not seem that innovative, it’s a big change and a big user experience shift as they moved from pressing a button to swiping a screen. User testing would have been in-depth to get the right gestures and functions to make sure it was a hit.

What is User Testing?

User testing is a series of tests given to a specific audience of people who match your ideal customer persona. A series of actions and tasks are laid out for the testers, and then the way they use and navigate the software is then recorded and fed back to the developers. 

User testing is squarely aimed at putting your new software or website to the test with human beings. Developers and designers can easily get lost in the project and lose sight of how the end user will use the software they’re creating. User testing will allow them to get real life feedback on their UX design and help them make improvements before the final version is launched. 

Why is User testing important? 

User experience is vital because it helps the developers and owners of the website or app create a product that will be simple and effective to use. There’s little point in creating an app that’s frustrating to use or a website that’s annoying for people who’ve never seen it before. 

User testing irons out the creases. It’s rare that a website be so bad after a user test that the whole project is scrapped and started again. Most of the time it’s the final 20% that needs improving. With years of experience, most developers will get most of it right, but it’s those final tweaks that will really make a difference. 

There’s a very good reason that most websites work in the same way. 

Have you ever noticed that almost every mobile version of a website has the ‘burger’ menu in the top right? Why? Because that’s where we expect it to be. It’s pretty much unchangeable now. It’s also the simplest way to show where the menu navigation (a very important part of any website) is. 

Scrolling on a website is often the same too. But this doesn’t stop some websites needing prompts or arrows to guide people to make their choices. Some sites miss the very obvious elements that help the user navigate the site and find what they’re looking for. 

Good user testing methods aim to find these problems before they’re live on the final version. 

Well-implemented user testing saves you money.  Your product or software will hit the market in the best working order and won’t be riddled with bugs or issues. Fixing them during the prototype stage is far easier and less costly. 

Fail fast, fall often. 

Using the end user to help you build your website or app makes total sense. You’re not creating it for you or your team, are you? You’re creating it for them. Getting a real user to test and try to achieve tasks on your prototype helps your developers to see whether what they’ve created is up to the job or not. 

User testing should be embedded in creating a good user experience, sometimes called UX design. Good user experience is the aim for any software developer. Our websites are built with the end user in mind. The user needs to enjoy visiting the website or app and do what they need to do with minimal fuss/swishing/tapping/head scratching! And it needs to add value to their life, too. We all know that if the user doesn’t get what they want pretty quickly they’ll just go elsewhere.

User experience starts with user testing. To achieve great UX, you must first find out what that looks like. 

User testing gives you the perfect insight into what the user thinks of your product so far. Do they move with ease across the platform, or do they swear and moan to their colleagues? In real life, this product would fail. 

We’re very fickle in this world and technology gets very few breaks from humans. Good testing will add to a improve the UX design of your website or app and make sure you’re giving people more smiles than headaches! 

How Do You Perform User Testing?

User testing isn’t as simple as just letting some people loose on your new prototype and asking them to ‘give it a go’. This will lead to disaster. What you actually need them to do is perform specific tasks that your product is designed to do. 

If you’ve built an app for a restaurant, you’ll need to test features and functions like:

  • Booking a table.
  • Finding the restaurant.
  • Viewing the menu.
  • Finding the dietary information.
  • Ordering a takeaway.
  • Contact details.
  • Finding reviews.

This way you’ll get results based on core functions and you can then feed that back from all the testers to your developers, rather than a list of ‘nice-to-haves’ and a mixed back of results. 

Here’s how a user test might look:

  • Build a mock-up or working protype.
  • Recruit testers with ideal personas.
  • Set tasks for them to perform.
  • Run the test and record what they do.
  • Get back to working on your software with the new results and feedback. 

Build a mock-up or working protype – user testing doesn’t need a flashing final product, but you will need a working example that they can use, and it will need the structure and key elements to allow for a fair test. 

Recruit testers with ideal personas – it’s really important that you recruit and use testers who are a good match persona-wise for your target end user. Testers need to be the right type of customer persona as in many cases this will change how they use and navigate your site or app. 

Set tasks for them to perform – The tasks you ask them to carry out are really important. Not guiding them at all leads to poor test results. But equally, asking them to perform certain tasks and not ones that really need to be tested is poor too. This set of tasks should be well thought-out and include all of the key areas of your site or app, covering the major tasks your end users will want or need to complete. 

Run the test and record what they do – Recording the results is best with screensharing software and results-driven tools that help you see analytical data and actual live footage of the user testing. This is a really important part of the testing. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why someone was unable to get a part of your software to work. It’s far easier to see it. What are they clicking and what are they expecting vs what happens?

Get back to working on your software with the new results and feedback – Then you can put your research and results into action to improve or change the UX design and functionality. This will give you a better product with a greater experience for your final end user. 

The aim should always be to give specific tasks to people who are your ideal match for the end users and then let them test. 

Don’t guide them, don’t help them, just record (digitally is best) what they do and then use those results to better your design or improve your product. 

What Are the Best User Testing Tools?

There are loads of tools out there to help you with your user testing but some of the best user testing tools we’ve found are listed below. 

As with all user testing, these are used because they give us the results we’re looking for with the user tests. We guide them into the timed tests and then the tools record and enable us to report and improve. 

Why suggest so many? 

Well, like all software, some are better at some areas and others are better at other areas. We use some of these tools because the split testing is better and others because they have great functions like heat maps and the ability to test browsers. 

Here’s some to take a look at:

A good mixture of tools will give you the ability to not only test the users but the platforms and their performance themselves. 

What’s the Difference Between User Testing and User Acceptance Testing?

Both user testing and acceptance testing are similar, with a small but significant difference. 

Usability Testing is (as we’ve explained above) for the testers you’ve recruited to test the software to see how your final end user might use it. 

User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is performed by the client (the owner of the software) to make sure the website or app is working well and matches what they had in mind and what they wanted from it. 

Clearly, both are important and the merge of these two should be the aim for a software developer. Getting the product to work well and give a good experience for the final users is clearly important, but if the company that commissioned the work doesn’t get what they want from it for any reason, then the project might not go live. 

The two combined well is the aim, although we’d argue that the usability testing bears more importance and is often more involved than the user acceptance testing. 

Accessible design is good design 

“Accessible design is good design.” This, according to Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft. 

Beautiful websites that are hard to navigate or look and feel terrible on a mobile, will fail. 

Apps that hide functions, fail to flow, and that give the user a hard time instead of saving them time, need to be re-thought. 

User testing will go a long way to getting a better beta, a more helpful functionality, and a user experience that’s one they’ll remember – not one they’ll want to forget. 

Without effective and well-structured user testing you’re wide open to making simple, but dramatic errors in your build. That’s why we’re big fans of user testing during the design and build of our websites and apps. 

Need help getting your idea off the whiteboard and into the real world? We bring ideas to life driven by outstanding creative design that drives productivity, improves conversion, and increases revenue.

Contact us now and we’ll have a chat. 

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