It’s impossible to build an app people actually love and want to use if you never talk to them. Seems obvious, right? And, yet, often overlooked.
Fortunately, remedying this is also obvious. By testing with your users (or target users), you uncover their needs, wants, and behaviours — and how you might tweak your product to improve usability and, ultimately, build something they get real value from.
This is the power of user testing.
The following guide is for anyone who has never done user testing before — or for folks who've done user testing, but are lacking a repeatable process.
What is user testing?
User testing is a controlled method of gathering feedback by testing your product — or a specific piece of your product — with real people.
The premise is simple: Ask users to complete a specific task or action and then observe their response. If you’re doing everything right, your user will complete the task or action in the way you intended. However, often you’ll discover the task or action was not intuitive, and users fail to complete it or they use unintended workarounds. When users face unnecessary friction, or can’t complete a task or action, it’s rare they’ll want to continue using your product.
Why should you conduct user testing?
Every user test we’ve ever done has produced valuable insights we wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, all of which have yielded impactful results — both for the user and for the business.
Additionally, conducting user tests is one of the best ways to develop more empathy for your users, which is critical to making a successful app. Why? Because empathy allows you to see the problem through your users’ eyes. And it’s your job to act as a translator between their version of reality and your product in order to connect their problem with your solution.
And before you think, ‘But that sounds like a lot of work,’ consider this: We’ve pulled together user tests that yield meaningful results in less than 24-hours, start to finish.
Of course, if this is your first time conducting user testing, you may want to give yourself a bit more leeway. We find spending a few hours each day over five days is enough time to sufficiently plan and execute your user tests. Try it once and we guarantee you’ll be sold on how easy and valuable it is — and soon you’ll never launch another product or feature without conducting user testing.
Who should conduct user testing?
The short answer is everyone. The long answer is anyone who:
- is launching a new product
- is launching a new feature
- has an existing product or feature and wants insight into their users’ behaviours
- is seeing signs of their users getting stuck, confused, or failing
- wants to validate a big idea before investing time and resources
When should you conduct user testing?
Have you ever heard the cliche, “The best time to invest was yesterday. The next best time is today.”? That’s how we feel about user testing.
Obviously we’re biased, but we think testing should happen early and often. And while the most logical time to conduct user testing is either before design starts or during the design phase, we actually think there’s never a bad time to run a test.
But is user testing really worth the investment?
Ever hear of a little piece of software called Windows 95? Who are we kidding, of course you have. But did you know that the Windows 95 you’re familiar with looked and behaved nothing like the initial prototype?
According to Microsoft employee Kent Sullivan in his paper The Windows 95 User Interface: A Case Study in Usability Engineering, “literally no detail of the initial UI design for Windows 95 survived unchanged in the final product.” No kidding — the product went through an impressive 64 phases of lab testing using 560 participants.
Without iterative user testing, the team would have been unable to explore so many different solutions to problems so quickly. And Microsoft wouldn’t have developed the most intuitive user operating system of its time, selling 7 million copies in its first five weeks. Needless to say, it was worth the investment.
Our five-step testing framework
The following guide will walk you through our five-step framework.
- Step 1: Define what you’re testing and why.
- Step 2: Identify and schedule your five test participants.
- Step 3: Build your test, including your script.
- Step 4: Conduct your user test.
- Step 5: Analyze and prioritize your results.
- Bonus: Scale up your new user testing skills.
We’ve also linked to a user test outline and script templates to get your test going, as well as videos, books, and tools for further learning.
Define what you're testing and why →