2013_06_18_featured_user_testing_methods Theory

The Top 5 User Testing Methods Of UX Professionals

Have you been wondering what type of user testing technique works best for you? Well, you are not the only one. And thank goodness for Linkedin, I had the great opportunity to get in touch with a few UX influencers to get a sense of their favorite user testing methods. I asked them what type of user testing method they found most efficient. The discussion did not only yield some intriguing results, but offered a pretty diverse list. I found it in great interest to present the discussion to you to get a sense of what user testing methods would be the best fit for your next project.

Let’s take a look at some of the user testing methods that were introduced by my new friends. But first, I want you to meet them – the people whose expertise brought light to this topic.

Please meet…

Thai Dang, Senior User Experience Architext at KIT Digital, Inc
Amy Tandon, Product Manager at RockeTalk
Karin Dames, Test Coordinator at Mobistar
Ian Franklin, Business Psychologist and User Experience Consultant
Genie McDonald, Senior Interaction Designer at Travelport

Behold, the most efficient user testing methods:

1. Focus Groups

When I asked Genie what user testing method she found most effective, she told me that she keeps finding herself wondering what “user testing” truly means. Genie believes that the most effective methods are those that allow you watch and interview real users while they interact with a product or service. Working with focus groups allows you to do just that – focus on a user and their skills. Focus groups allow you to deeply and extensively see a group of users interacting with each other to discuss an idea or concept. This can spark some great inspiration as you will gain more insight from the ideas of the group.

2. Tree Testing

Tree testing is an effective method that provides a reality check for the user experience designer and your business. It allows you to see how well users interact and find items or elements in the website hierarchy. This helps you to understand what points in the hierarchy need work based on where the user stumbled. Thai told me that this testing method allows a partial reality check. This approach reveals whether your information architecture structure is easily understandable. A basic paper-print approach can work for this, but now there are softwares available for tree testing as well.

3. Remote User Testing

Remote user testing allows you to conduct testing from the comfort of your personal space, by computer or telephone. It is much easier testing with this method. Ian shared his thoughts with me, stating that a large consensus feels that remote testing is the most efficient because it can be implemented throughout the whole process of development – from concept to post deployment. “All you need is the user’s web cam to be pointed at the device of application and a web-based tool to record the session,” he says.

A nice aspect of this method is that it is budget friendly. Thai mentioned to me and the rest of the group that remote testing can be carried out even if your budget is minimal. The downside of this method is that the mental model of the user – the user’s thought process when using a product or service – might not come through as much as when using in-person methods.

4. Beta-Testing

During my discussion with the group, Karin pointed out the value of beta-testing. It allows you to roll out a product to individuals who are keen on providing an objective feedback, thus creating a win-win situation. This is because you will not only receive valuable feedback for the product, but you will also be able to effectively market your products before they are shipped.

It is obviously assumed that sufficient in-house testing was carried out to test the product functionality, before releasing this product to the customers. Naturally, you do not want your customers to locate bugs, you simply want their feedback on the product usability, product feature completeness, etc.

Beta testers may not like the idea of any major placement alterations. This is because they are accustomed to having things in specific places. This leads us to the last testing method.

5. User Diaries

Amy believes that It is necessary to involve real users when testing. No amount of tools or test cases can substitute for real life testing with real users. These end-users must not be near the product during the production stage. It might be a good idea to hand it over to some beta testers from an existing user base as well as include a few ‘new’ and potential users for an extended use of 4-5 days. This will get users in a space where they can offer real feedback if provided with beta testing. This will happen in their own course of time, whenever it is convenient for them and needs to be unsupervised. Ask them to simply play around and explore the product.

Remember, for people who pretend to act like real users, their judgement may appear clouded. They have been in close proximity to the product as well as the test cases. Hence, they are unable to provide feedback like real users. Ultimately, they are likely to fail to catch the key usability issues.

2 comments

  1. Chris How

    Focus groups are the antithesis of user centered design as they canvas opinion (and often group opinion) rather than gathering real evidence of behaviour.

    Whenever a client suggests a focus group I’m reminded of the quote from Henry Ford – “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.

    For insight my favoured approach is for user testing with appropriate participants mixed with data analytics.

  2. brooke

    I don’t think focus groups are defined correctly in this article. In my experience a focus group is a when a group of people are brought together (same time/place) for a guided discussion about a topic, product, or concept.

    What is described above as a focus group is more commonly defined as usability testing. These are one-on-one sessions with users, the product, and a moderator.

    To the author and interviewees: all of the methods of research you note above are valid at different points in the design and development life cycle of a product. Maybe a future discussion should be around how to match the research/testing method with where you are in the process to be most effective.

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