Every design ever made has a user – but not every experience is designed with the user in mind. Sometimes it’s because designers don’t know enough about their users; sometimes it’s because deadlines are too tight to bother. But in the end, users are the ones who interact daily with designs, and users are the ones who can help make designs better.
Usability testing catches sticky user problems when the product is still in the design phase. So why are so many organizations reluctant to get started? Anecdotally speaking, it seems as though every UX practitioner has one—or a dozen—stories of higher ups and team leads who said “we can’t usability test. It’s just….
a waste of time and resources
biased and artificial
impossible to test enough users
unnecessary, since users aren’t experts
redundant, since we have market research and competitive analyses.”
In this article, we’ll respond to all of these objections, and give UX practitioners the ammunition they need to convince any doubters that usability testing is, in fact, right for every project.
Objection #1: User testing is too expensive
While we’d love to do limitless user testing, we do have to acknowledge project constraints, and budget is often a huge one. Sometimes, it’s enough to say “usability testing will save us from possibly producing a product no one wants,” but when the budget absolutely can’t be expanded, that’s ok too!
Some user testing platforms can be incredibly expensive, but they’re not the only options. Platforms like UserTesting.com are expensive because they allow us to customize every detail of our test, including the demographic of people we’re testing. For highly specific products or services, a narrow user field is perfect—a divorce attorney isn’t interested in a happily married person’s opinion of his website. However, for the local coffee company trying to sell delivered-to-you coffee, their customer base will range from a 20-something hipster who’s into the newest thing to a house-bound retiree who can’t get out to buy groceries.
Assuming user demographics vary, we can run cheap, DIY user tests early and often. We call these impromptu tests guerrilla testing, which is exactly what it sounds like: testing in the wild with randomly selected users. It can reveal blind spots in the project before too much money or time is spent creating something users won’t want in the end. All it requires is brief coffee shop sessions, where a team member asks a variety of customers to offer their thoughts on the website or product in exchange for a cup of coffee.
For teams operating in a digital-only environment, it can be hard to do guerrilla testing. But cheap testing can still be done. Affordable programs like Qualaroo allow testers to use surveys or questionnaires to capture opinions from current site visitors. And UsabilityHub offers quick initial impressions, preference tests, and navigation tests at a reasonable cost. The possibilities for quick user feedback are only as limited as your imagination. Just be sure to approach potential testers with clear respect for their time and opinions, and a defined goal behind each question.
Objection #2: User testing is a waste of time and resources
Really?! Did they not just hear us say that user testing prevents the launch of unwanted, unusable projects?
Whether a test succeeds or fails, if the team learned something about how they could improve the website, app, business, or product, they came out ahead. Sure, we could save some money and time by not testing, but how else will we learn if users like what we’re offering? Even just running the product by three actual consumers will turn up obstacles that the team may never have recognized on their own.
For example, Drupal developers at Digital Loom were tasked with rebuilding the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) website, and were on the fence about user testing. One of the primary purposes for NEFA’s website is collecting donations for the foundation. After a few user tests, it quickly became obvious that people were overlooking the “donate” button, even when they were tasked with making a donation. If Digital Loom hadn’t bothered to watch a few users run through the site, they would never have caught the button blindness and could have cost NEFA donations.
When it comes down to it, “wasted resources” is only a good objection if the team has no intention of fixing the issues that come up in testing. And if the team isn’t interested in improving the product, then there are bigger problems at hand.
Objection #3: User testing is not objective, so the results are unrealistic
We know that many user tests are administered in settings that feel contrived for the user, and the moderator might not be an impartial observer based on her role in developing the test project. Plus, the test questions will never be perfectly neutral, no matter how much time we spend on them. But that’s ok!