Engaging Users in the Design Process

A beginner’s guide to getting the most out of testing

Celine Fucci
The Startup
5 min readFeb 20, 2021


A researcher analyzing data from a mobile phone app.
Source: ManyPixels

The first time you conduct a testing session can be overwhelming. You may be nervous and probably haven’t figured out an effective way to approach it yet. That’s completely okay. User testing, much like other parts of the design process, takes time to understand. It’s about practice and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. In this article, I’d like to discuss some ideas you can implement and different approaches you can take to get the most out of testing.

Test Plan Introduction

A good first step before you begin user interviews is to make a comprehensive plan. It’s up to you how you want to structure this. To start out, I recommend defining the interview objectives and goals upfront. Ask yourself (and your team members) what you're trying to get out of this testing session. Before getting into the finer details of the testing plan, you could also outline other key information such as:

  • Your audience/interview participants
  • Location/where these interviews will take place
  • Team roles

Additionally, it may be useful to create a testing script. Creating a script really depends on your communication style. Do you think it will provide structure or will it hinder you from achieving the intended task?

Test Plan Details

The test plan details are what will most likely guide future iterations of your product. Let’s assume you’re testing the usability of a prototype. You’ll want to outline what questions to ask users and how you want them to navigate your prototype. When it comes to testing a prototype, I’ve found it critical to test each section in parts. For this, I like to use the Task & Scenario model.

The Task & Scenario model introduces proper context to the user upfront before asking them to complete a task.

This is an example from a testing plan I worked on with some team members:

A screenshot of the Scenario & Task method in action during a testing session.
Task & Scenario

I love using this model because it helps to guide the conversation. You can list out as many tasks and scenarios as needed but I recommend limiting it to between 3–5. You don’t want to overwhelm the user and have the testing session run too long.

A good rule of thumb is to keep testing sessions to about an hour.

An Aside on Questions

When you’re defining a list of questions to ask users during testing sessions, try to be as concentrated as possible. What I mean by this is to set aside a good chunk of time to think critically about what you’re trying to assess.

Here are a few tips for asking questions:

  • Refrain from asking leading questions. These can lead to biases. Instead, ask open-ended questions.
  • Ask follow-up questions. When users explain their thoughts, this allows you to uncover why they provided the answer that they did.

Here are some great follow-up questions to ask:

  • Why is that?
  • When did you notice that?
  • How do you do that?
  • How come you feel that way?

These questions come from one of my favorite articles about user research:

Measuring Success

Moving forward, measuring success is an integral part of the user interview process. As a beginner, it can be hard to do this. Oftentimes, companies will track advanced metrics and use tools such as heat maps. As a designer just starting out, you may not have access to comprehensive tools like these. So, I recommend taking a simpler route.

Here are some ideas:

It’s important to collect both qualitative and quantitative metrics. After collecting a series of metrics, it helps to tally up the results. In the graphic below, I used quantitative metrics to assess how difficult certain tasks were in relation to others. I then used that data to inform my design decisions.

A table outlining the results of a question asked during user testing. The question was, how easy or difficult did you find this task?
Gathering qualitative metrics through a Likert Scale

Interview Strategy

The last thing I want to touch on in this article is setting up a structure/strategy for user interviews. Again, you can keep things simple here and use what has worked for others in the past. For one project, my team uses Jake Knapp’s Five-Act Interview approach.

Friendly Welcome

  • Moderator describes how the interview will work
  • Moderator puts the customer at ease

Context Questions

  • Moderator asks specific questions to learn background info
  • These context questions will depend on if the interviewee is a new or returning participant.

Introduce the Prototype

  • Moderator informs the participant that they’re not being tested and encourages them to give frank, candid feedback
  • Moderator tells the participant to use the “Think Aloud” approach


  • Go through the prototype tasks
  • Ask follow-up questions and probe each participant

Debrief and Post-Testing Usability Questions

  • Moderator thanks the customer for their time