Common Mistakes in User Testing Your Prototypes
“The most effective marketers use a process of experimentation to consistently test, iterate, and grow. Instead of waiting until they’re losing customers and sales, they test proactively in order to prevent problems before they arise.”
Designing a website or an app always starts with sketching out and wireframing initial ideas. They are usually very simple schemes (hand-drawn sketches or digital mockups) showing the layout and elements of a particular page. But as we embark on the design process, we have to constantly ask ourselves, “What is it our target consumer is looking for?” The easiest way to begin answering this question is to ask them, and one way to do that is through user testing.
Over the years we have learnt to optimise the prototyping and testing process. There are common mistakes we have observed in both our own and other UXers’ work in the past, mistakes which we now always aim to avoid and can share with you below.
1. Starting the testing too late
Your testing should start as soon as possible – even the first sketches you create should be reviewed by at least a colleague. Designers often rely on heuristics and good practice, while forgetting that we all make mistakes and you always should rely on another set of eyes.
You don’t need a polished prototype for testing – the sooner you start, the less time you will spend refining your work further down the line. Go ahead and do some tree testing on your information architecture, test the concept, see if your sketches work before you sit in front of your screen. (Further testing can always be done on an interactive prototype later, prepared in either HTML or a specialist software such as Axure or Omnigraffle, which simulates the way the final interactions will work. Testing interactive prototypes will also give your testing more substance and will enable you to better understand the user experience of the end product.)
Sometimes designers assume that commonly used design patterns will always be correct and usable but that is not necessarily the case. For example, Airbnb has disrupted industry standards and introduced a totally new approach to designing hotel-like websites, by going back to the drawing board, rather than assuming that sketching is obsolete.
Testing early will also prevent the research participants from focusing on the architecture and functions rather than on visual design elements, colours and typefaces. In his book “Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide”, Todd Zaki Warfel, one of the thought leaders in the field of digital prototyping, points out that it’s easier to give feedback on an un-finished design, as the participants will understand that not much time was put into building it.
2. Testing prototypes with dummy text
Content and interface go together like peanut butter and jelly. Testing your designs with dummy text placed in them will make the experience incomplete and often confusing. The experience is not limited to buttons, sliders and boxes – it’s everything you see (or what you don’t see) working together to provide you with certain value.
[bctt tweet=”The experience isn’t limited to buttons, sliders and boxes – it’s everything you see” “via @pomegranate_exp”]
Headings, body copy and microcopy are all elements that drive the narrative and encourage the user to engage in desired actions. It’s this call for cohesion between design and content that has resulted in the emergence of the content designer job role, a UX designer and content producer merged into one. The Government Digital Service team is relying on content designers to create designs and test them, ensuring that all elements in prototypes are balanced and receive the right amount of attention from participants.
3. Setting up test tasks that require too much imagination
Participants are often called to imagine scenarios when undergoing the testing process. However, in order to follow one of the 10 basic usability heuristics – “Recognition rather than recall” – we need to remember that users have limited working memory. If we ask testers to remember too many things that are not readily displayed on the screen, there is a risk they can lose focus and not execute the tasks properly, due to a heavy cognitive load. It is therefore better to place the interface in a bigger context and try to create prototypes that are as self-explanatory as possible; for example, where the context and tasks are either always displayed or broken down into comprehensible pieces. This approach will provide a higher level of understanding and thus better quality feedback data.
4. Testing your own prototypes
Whilst using third party testers is the ideal scenario, having to test a website or app in-house is not something you can always avoid. There are many situations where there is only a single UXer on a project, such as in small companies, startups or with freelancers. If possible, always ask a colleague to conduct the testing and/or analysis of the feedback you receive. That way he/she will remain immune to your biases and provide you with objective feedback. After all, we are all only human and are subject to many biases both within and out of our control and our job as researchers or designers is to remain objective. That’s why testing should always be done by another person (or ideally, multiple people from different fields).
[bctt tweet=”Testing should always be done by another person or multiple people from different fields” “via @pomegranate_exp”]
Although user testing is a complicated method to perfect, it’s relatively easy to start with. If you stick to industry best practice and use techniques suggested by thought leaders such as NielsenNormanGroup, you should do just fine. You may not get it right the first time, however testing with even just one user is better than not testing at all.