How to get the most out of User Testing
Demystifying the difference between 'User Testing' and 'User Research'.
It’s a confusing world out there isn’t it, and with more acronyms and insider lingo than you can shake a jargon busting article at, the digital world can sometimes be a headache to navigate.
At Yoyo however, our motto is ‘keep it simple’ and this article will help demystify the important difference between ‘User Research’ and ‘User Testing’. It will also explain the two testing methods that we use to inform our human-centred design process and how these methods deliver better products and drive a greater return on investment for the clients we work with.
The wide world of User Research
The term User Research covers a whole spectrum of research activities that allows us to empathise and understand the real people we are designing for. There are many types of User Research methods and choosing the right one depends on several factors including your goals, constraints like time and budget, and what stage you are at in the design process.
So what the heck is User Testing?
‘Testing’ is a word that conjures up flashbacks of sweaty palms and dreaded school exams. But when we talk about User Testing, really it just means product testing with users to gain feedback, and is a form of user research that can be used at any point in the process as long as there is something to test.
We test the product, not the user themselves.
User Testing like all forms of User Research can and should be done at various stages of a project in order to repeatedly validate, inform and improve the product through an iterative design process.
At Yoyo we use two key methods at different stages of a project:
What & When
The first method is Concept Testing whereby an early prototype or Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is shown to users and their initial reactions recorded.
This happens as soon as possible in the process in order to see if the overall strategic and design direction is promising and if the product meets the needs of the audience. Ultimately we’re seeing if it’s something they would want. This won’t be anything close to a finished product. In fact it shouldn’t be. It can even just be sketches on paper to show the idea.
Importantly however it must capture the key essence of the product which we call the Value Proposition.
This method essentially tests the validity of the idea in a way that’s cheap, fast and gives very valuable insights that will steer the product development in a successful direction.
Doing Concept Testing and making changes as early as possible avoids time and money being wasted by implementing the wrong solution. In fact it’s estimated that it’s 100 times cheaper to make a change before any code has been written than it is to wait until after the implementation is complete.
So by testing early you not only iterate towards a better solution but you reduce the cost of the entire process.
At Yoyo the websites and digital experiences we create take a variety of forms and each project is uniquely tailored to the goals of our clients. Therefore the concept is somewhat different every time.
We first make sure we know what research questions we wish to answer based on the value proposition, which determines what the concept needs to be. Sometimes basic sketches are enough. Other times, a fully designed concept page in Invision does the trick, or we’ll create an entire interactive prototype in Figma. What’s important here is that there’s no coding involved, so we can quickly adapt the designs with user feedback.
Then either in person or online we show the prototype to users, observe their actions and reactions, then ask them to give feedback in areas that support the research questions. By making sure the users involved are from the target audience this approach not only tests the validity of the idea but also allows them to give wider insights into their own needs, pain points and motivations which will further inform the design.
What & When
The second key method is Usability Testing (which understandably is often confused with the broader area of User Testing). It is a technique that uncovers the usability issues of the design and also validates design decisions by testing the interface with users.
What makes this different from Concept Testing is the stage in the process and the detail of the testing. Usability Testing should be done when the design and development of a product is underway and there is a semi or fully functional design that can be tested.
The reason this kind of testing is important is that no matter how experienced the design team and client are, the real-world complexities of user behaviour can never be fully predicted. As well as only being able to empathise with the audience so far, quite often what users say varies significantly from what they actually do.
As well as identifying issues with the design it also allows us to better understand the behaviour and preferences of the users and uncovers opportunities to improve.
Ideally, usability testing is conducted throughout the design process, not just at the end, because the greatest improvements in user experience come from gathering usability data as early as possible.
By making sure we test with 5 or more users we can discover at least 85% of usability issues. This means that with every test we get closer to the best solutions possible.
Once a design is ready for testing a facilitator will observe and record the behaviour of a group of users as they attempt to use the product to complete a series of pre-agreed tasks.
At Yoyo we facilitate tests either in person or remotely. For each, we record what users do and also ask them to narrate their actions to give a deeper insight into their decision making process, goals, and motivations.
The quantitative and qualitative results from these tests will allow us to uncover various things:
- How successfully users can achieve tasks.
- How long tasks take.
- How satisfied users are.
- What changes must be made to improve performance and satisfaction.
So to sum it all up:
- User Research gives a deeper understanding of the needs, desires, and behaviours of intended users.
- User Testing refers to research methods that evaluate a product with interaction from the user, whether this is testing an overall concept to check the validity of an idea (Concept Testing), or testing the usability of a product in the design process or once live (Usability Testing).
By understanding and continually learning from users, this enables us to create digital experiences with impact that are truly relevant, easy and pleasurable to use, and that achieve our client’s goals.
If you need help translating an idea into something tangible to show your customers, or if you want to improve the usability of your website or app but don’t know where to start then please get in touch! We'd be very happy to help you kick start a more user-centric design process.