Learn from people-design for people

Testing is important. You’ve probably heard it before and I’m sure you’ll hear it again. The importance of user testing and validating design has been well documented, but it’s still surprising how many people still don’t do it. One of the best ways to validate design is to get it in the hands of end users.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned from sitting down with real people using real products.

Spend time building rapport

For me, the research starts the moment I greet the respondent. The greeting sets the scene for the interview that’s about to follow. Like many things, first impressions matter and can influence their mood, feelings and comfort levels. Ensuring someone feels comfortable will increase their willingness to share information and personal experiences that can provide you with better quality insights.

Before diving into detail, allocate a few minutes get to know the person and understand the steps taken that might have got them to the point of using the product or service in question.

Observe behaviour

There can be an element of test-effect when testing in a lab environment. You want to try and emulate a realistic environment for users. Users can interact one way, but comment otherwise. It’s important to observe closely how they’re interacting so you can draw on this behaviour when asking questions. It might be a scrunchy face, negative tone or observing a work-around for a usability issue. Take notes and conduct a retrospective walk through of the task using the observations to dig deeper into the cause of the problem.

Stop talking and listen

Sounds simple doesn’t it? It’s harder than you might think and is crucial in eliciting genuine feedback from users. Don’t be afraid of silence and allow respondents to think through the task at hand and gather their thoughts. When talking through designs I’ve found it’s handy to sometimes sketch on some paper with them. It often helps users articulate their thoughts and really consider the feedback they’re providing.

Don’t be afraid to ask why

Asking why helps dig deeper into the reasons a user might be having difficulty using a product. Don’t be afraid to why numerous times; it helps get to the source of the problem, is a great empathy building technique and enables designers to better understand how products are experienced. Think of it like ‘peeling back the layers’ to generate additional insights.

Have structure but be adaptable

Interesting insights can come from unexpected conversations providing a deeper understanding of user behaviour, so being able to follow certain questions lines is important. Make sure the script has key areas to keep on point but have the ability to support free flowing conversations if appropriate. Treat it as a conversation rather than observation.

You can’t predict everything

People interact with systems, devices and products in unpredictable ways. Whilst you may have suspicions of what the research will highlight, there’s always nuggets of information that you can’t predict. Interviewing diverse, relevant user groups will also ensure different generational behaviour is uncovered.

The longer you leave it, the easier it is to say no

The sooner a design or feature is tested, the easier it is to assess the current state of design and pivot if necessary. Any form of testing or research should be done as early and often as possible. The propensity to become attached to design increases the longer this validate/iterate process is put aside.

Get out and test designs. Use the findings as a foundation for future iterations. This will ensure decisions are evidence based and built around the user.

In summary

Validate concepts & test with end users

Do it early and often — anything is better than nothing

Build rapport & understand the broader context of use

Stop talking and listen

Don’t leave testing till it’s to late to pivot

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