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  • A Beginner's Guide to User Testing

    - Janessa Olson

    Okay, but, Where Does One User Test?

    One of the many neat things about user testing is you can do it almost anywhere! Here are some examples of where I've done user testing:

    • At the food carts in downtown Portland
    • In numerous coffee shops (personal favorite, I love coffee)
    • At a bar in Reykjavik
    • On the bus during my morning commute
    • On the top of Jungfrau

    Basically, wherever there is another human being besides yourself, you can user test!

    Google history: "how do i test a user," "where do i find a user," "do sharks have taste buds," "user near me"

    How Do I User Test?

    Well, here's the catch -- it usually requires talking to strangers. Terrifying, I know. The good news is, I would argue that this is the hardest part of user testing! Talking to strangers is uncomfortable, and most humans go out of their way to not be uncomfortable, but that discomfort is for a very short amount of time.

    Find a user to test.

    This is probably the second-hardest part. If you're looking to test on any ol' human, then just walk outside and talk to the first person who saunters by. However, if you really want to test someone who falls in your target market, then you need to be a bit more selective. You could start hanging around areas where your target market also hangs out, or posting an ask in a social media group curated for your target market.

    For example: In the story I told you earlier, I specifically needed to know why small business owners (aka our target users) weren't doing what I wanted them to. In this case I didn't really want just anyone, so I went to the food carts (where the business owners were very likely present) during slow hours, and user tested there. That way, I could be confident that I was getting feedback from the types of users who would receive the problematic email.

    Ask them to have a look at your product.

    Some people will say no (can't win 'em all), but most will say yes. Sometimes that requires a bit of bribery, like buying them a coffee or some kind of baked good, but what I've found is most people really like telling you their opinions about something. Like... a lot. It's borderline weird.


    Set some loose expectations. For example: "We're working on a product for [thing]. I'd like you to first look at the home page, and tell me what you think before you start exploring." Try not to be too rigorous with these guidelines, because you don't want them to potentially impede valuable feedback from the user.

    Ask open-ended questions. In addition to this, I also try to avoid starting questions with "Why." I imagine a solid 60% of you are internally exclaiming "BUT WHY?!" as you read this. Starting a statement with "why" tends to put folks on the defensive, because the word itself can be rather provoking. Instead of why, try using:

    • "What made you click there?"
    • "I noticed that you clicked on the same button 14 times; what are you expecting that button to do?"

    Let the user wander. If they're human, they probably will. Even if you've given them what you think is a direct ask like "look at this homepage and tell me what you think" and they start clicking all over the place, let them do it for a while before gently placing them back on course, but remember to observe, and ask them about what they're doing.

    TAKE NOTES. Most of us can't remember what we wore yesterday, let alone all the little details of user testing that happened mere hours earlier. If you're able to record the session, great, but if not, notes will be your lifesaver. You can take them back to your team to share your observations later.

    BONUS POINTS: Bring a buddy with you!

    Some things are just easier when you've got a partner in crime, and user testing falls into that category.

    This User Testing Buddy can be really any of your coworkers, but I'm a huge fan of bringing a developer along. It gets them out of the building (which they never get to do), and also gets them rare, precious interaction with the user (which they also never get to do but almost always enjoy doing). I've found that this rare face time with users often helps the developer's personal investment in the product, while providing fodder for ideas to improve or expand on said product. Everybody wins!

    "We did it! We talked to strangers!"


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