Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen the rise of connected, smart devices and other digital technologies that entirely reshape the way consumers interact with organisations.
Companies are scrambling to digitise, to create frictionless and intuitive experiences for their users – through the likes of websites, apps, wearables, self-service portals, payment platforms and other channels.
As they embrace digital, organisations are reorienting themselves, placing the customer at the centre of their thinking, and responding with greater agility to emerging consumer needs. Phrases like ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘customer co-creation’ ring out in boardrooms across the country and throughout the rest of the world.
And in the drive to create customer-oriented solutions, one of the most critical tools is usability testing – where product managers and user-experience specialists show early product prototypes to users. Usability testing is usually done via immersive, one-on-one sessions, where participants are asked to perform a range of actions, to give their views, while the tester observes the user’s interactions with the software being tested.
With design thinking and user experience at the heart of our consulting approach, at Freethinking we’ve developed blueprints for success, which applies to almost all forms of product testing in any industry.
Here are my favourite tips, my top 10 ‘secrets to usability testing success’!
Recruit well… Ensure that you have a well-defined recruitment process, where you ask the right questions to ensure that your trial group are representative of the broader customer base. Many unsuccessful usability testing sessions can be traced back to poor selection of testers in the first place.
Location, location, location… overcome the classical ‘anthropologists dilemma’ (that the very act of observing someone influences the authenticity of the study) by hosting your usability testing session in location that puts your testers at ease. Don’t host the sessions in an overly-formal, overly-corporate office setting, but rather select more casual office environments or the likes of coffee shops, shopping malls, etc.
Blow-up any preconceptions… some testers will bring preconceived ideas about what’s expected of them, or quickly jump to conclusions about the purpose of the session. Make sure that you clearly state the session’s objectives up-front, and try to rein them in if they start leading or distracting the flow of the session. Testers will often want to discuss their own points that are related to the session but slightly ‘off-topic’. As facilitators, it’s our job to lend a sympathetic ear, and show that they’re being listened to, but while retaining the structure of the session and ensuring it doesn’t deviate into the wrong directions.
“It’s our job to lend a sympathetic ear, and show that they’re being listened to, but while retaining the structure of the session and ensuring it doesn’t deviate into the wrong directions.”
Resist the urge to influence the session… similar to my last point, as facilitators ourselves we sometimes feel the urge to influence the session, becoming too involved in the tester as they navigate through the software that’s on show, or putting words in their mouth when discussing their experiences. Remember that the job of the facilitator is often to ‘get out of the way’ and let the test process happen organically.
Define flawless admin processes… even the best-run usability program can be negatively affected if some of the hygiene factors aren’t dealt with effectively. Be clear on things like calendar invites, locations, building access, food and drink, remuneration amounts and the payment process. For example, if a tester is expecting same-day payment for his time, and then finds out that the payment only happens later, then both his mindset, and the results of the testing, can be affected.
Understand the bigger context… Our participants are individuals with rich personalities, backgrounds, cultures, ideologies, religions or experiences. In order to properly interpret the results, we must be cognisant of the bigger context of that particular individual’s life. With greater awareness of the subtle context behind that user’s actions, we’ll create more valuable usability testing reports at the end of the programme of sessions.
Overcome the ‘positivity bias’… There’s often a tendency for testers to be overly-complimentary about their experiences, wanting to create a positive relationship with the facilitator, and thinking that if they are perhaps too negative, that they may not be invited back for another testing session. Try to allay these concerns and highlight the need for absolute honesty and authenticity in the session, explicitly stating that you welcome negative feedback when needed.
Chunk the testing into bytesize pieces… Most of the time, it’s best to keep the usability tests focused on individual software features and user flows, rather than trying to cover too much in one session. To do this, ‘chunk’ your software into different components, and then test each component separately.
Host 8-16 sessions… To pull out truly useful insights, and to test with different users from all walks of life, you’ll need to host more than just a handful of sessions. I recommend between 8 and 16 sessions per testing programme, depending on the nature and the scale of the software that you’re testing.
Get a second opinion… While it may not be necessary in every single session, bring a second facilitator into the room from time-to-time, and ask them to analyse your approach and suggest improvements. This is also a great way to bounce ideas off others, and to learn from your colleagues.