The Value of Usability Testing

For many projects in which we are engaged, our clients don’t have the luxury of time or budget to conduct a usability test. However, when they do, we have found this exercise to be extremely valuable, and well worth the additional time and cost. There are a few situations in particular in which a design benefits even more from this exercise. For example, when the app is very new and different from what is currently available in the market, or when you are targeting a very specific user base, usability testing can help prevent you from going down a path that just doesn’t work, or hone your design to truly target that specific audience. If you are considering adding usability testing to your project plan, you won’t regret it.

Understanding Users is Crucial to User Experience

As a user experience and data visualization design consultancy, we spend a lot of time putting our feet in the shoes of our end users. During our initial discovery phase and during each iterative design sprint, we ask a lot of questions of the project team, with each person providing a different perspective, including that of the end user. In this way, we learn more about our users—what they are trying to accomplish, what motivates them, what struggles they have—and then apply that learning to our designs. We try to empathize with the user and design an experience that helps them better navigate through and leverage the accessible data to make better decisions and understand their situation so they can DO something about it.

Aren’t You Experts? Why Do We Need to Test?

While hiring UI/UX experts includes significant experience and expertise in design, not all experiences are created equally, and it is still beneficial to conduct usability testing. Sometimes this testing is done on a clickable prototype, especially when just wanting to understand how well a concept will be understood. Using a prototype allows us to get vital user feedback before getting into development cycles of what may be a suboptimal design. This impartial testing really helps shape the design and improves the end product. Even better is when we can have users provide feedback on a live app that we’ve designed. We love to hear the good, of course, but equally important is hearing what may not be so good—this is how we learn, refine, and improve our approach. We can take that information and push our thinking in a different direction and the whole project benefits: the development team doesn’t waste time building something that may not be quite right and the final product is much more tailored to its purpose and end user.

What Value Does a Third Party Bring?

When possible, we like to partner with an outside firm that plans, recruits for and conducts usability tests. While we define the primary goals of the test as well as the overall process, some of the key questions and boundaries, they prepare a detailed script and work with participants to provide us with insights that we don’t get on our own. That third party perspective ensures that the feedback is candid, and that all of the participants’ feedback is compiled into a report that is complete with recommendations for moving the product forward. For example, during the test, the test facilitator could detect times when the user expresses confusion over some terms used or where more legends may improve the comprehension of a chart; they also note overall impressions like whether the tone and colors particularly resonate with the user or if they express fear, confusion or delight. The value of that kind of in-depth analysis of the user experience has benefitted a number of products we have worked on.

In the End, You Won’t Regret It

If you have a hypothesis about a user flow or want to focus on an audience you may not fully understand, it would be a worthwhile exercise to conduct a well planned usability test, ideally using a professional third party. Even if you find you are headed in the right direction, you are sure to gain valuable insights into your product’s offerings and the perspective of your users.