The 5 W’s Of User Testing
Sean McGowanAugust 29th, 20175 minute read
Sean is a technical researcher & writer at Codal, authoring blog posts on topics ranging from UX design to the Internet of Things. Working alongside developers, designers, and marketers, Sean helps support the writing team to ensure Codal produces engaging web content of the highest quality. When not writing about the latest innovations in app design, Sean can be found cooking, watching old movies, or complaining about the shortcomings of his favorite Philadelphia sports teams.
Any quality UX design agency will boast their commitment to user-centric design by emphasizing the importance of user testing, but few really explain how the testing actually works.
To help clarify, Codal has written a brief “five W’s” — who, what, where, when, and why — to illustrate exactly what we mean when we say ‘user testing’. Whether you’re interested in how we’re going to test your platform, or want to try conducting some testing yourself, think of this article as your starter kit.
Before we dive into the different practices, strategies, and methods of user testing, let’s start with an important prerequisite: why should we care about user testing? Why is it important?
The short answer is that user testing is the only method to confirm the usability of your platform with 100% certainty.
Yes, skilled user experience designers understand the techniques and strategies that are likely, even necessary, to create a quality platform; but the only way to truly validate their design choices is through user testing.
Imagine investing your time, effort, and money into launching a robust, innovative platform—only to find your users don’t like it, don’t want it, or can’t use it. User testing is a pre-emptive strike to ensure that never happens.
We throw around the term ‘user’ quite a bit, sometimes to the point where it can lose its meaning. I’ve often argued the term “user” is a vague umbrella term—users encompass a variety of starkly differing people, each with their own goals and objectives.
To characterize your user base, ask your UX design agency to create user personas. User personas are conceptualizations of these different user types. For example, Showroom Squared, a furniture platform Codal designed, had three distinct audiences: salespersons, designers, and manufacturers.
User testing isn’t effective without a representative sample of the user base. At Codal, we usually start by testing approximately ten users, then evaluating to see if there’s consistent responses. If not, the sample size is increased until more solid conclusions can be drawn.
Of course, user testing requires time and money, so we typically consult with the client before ramping up testing. Users need incentives to become test subjects, and this usually involves some sort of monetary compensation.
User testing can be conducted with a variety of different strategies, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. Which testing method to use typically depends on the client, the scope of the project, and, as always, the budget.
For the intents and purposes of this article however, we’ll be focusing on Codal’s typical methodology for testing: task assignment.
As the name implies, task assignment involves a designer providing a user with the platform under test—whether it’s a rough prototype, a completed application, or an interactive wireframe—and then assigning them a prompt to complete.
Codal’s UX designers plan a user testing session
Most methods allow user testing to be conducted just about anywhere, though ideally you’ll want to interface with the user in-person. You’ll collect better qualitative data, and can see any hesitancies and struggles they may have with the platform in real time.
Of course, in-person testing isn’t always feasible. Sometimes it’s difficult to gain access to a certain user persona — say a demographic in another country. If this is the case, select a strategy like Codal’s task assignment, or another method that can be conducted over an online video chat.
We’re often asked the best time to conduct user testing. Is it early in the design process, once you have a clear vision for the new or improved platform? At the end, right before the platform is ready for development, or even launch? Or somewhere in between? The answer is simple: yes.
User testing should permeate the entire design process, from the earliest prototype to the final product. Codal’s design process is Agile, which means it’s cyclical and iterative. Our designers create prototypes, test them, analyze the results, then go back to the drawing board to adjust and test again.
How often user testing, like anything else in the design process, depends on the project’s scope and budget. Some massive projects require significant rounds of testing, whereas marketing or eCommerce sites typically don’t need stringent testing.
Ready to Test?
Now that we’ve learned about users testing, let’s do a quick review (we may or may not test you on this).
We’ve covered a lot of ground, but remember this is only the foundation of a thorough user testing strategy. If you want an app that’s backed by it’s users, consult the testing experts.