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Never again go live without user testing

Involving real users in the development of websites and apps is becoming ever more important. Not only to manage their high expectations, but also to offer a digital solution which genuinely makes your users happy. User testing is becoming key and offers significant benefits for your company. Worried that it’s a hefty investment? Well it’s not so bad. We share our most important learnings from user testing, and show that you can start doing it in a structured way right now.

As designers we are inclined to get to work quickly in a solution-focused and visual way. Although a happy user is the primary goal, our own interests and those of the client and colleagues still often dominate the execution of our work. Under the pressure of a tight timetable and strict budgets we are also often forced to design on the basis of assumptions instead of real research. Which is a shame, since experience has taught us that ‘time spent on user testing is time saved on the overall project’. By testing with real users, you gain insight into improving the user experience and increasing conversion. Iterative testing also helps you to validate a concept and uncover usability problems at an early stage. In an ideal world nothing would therefore go live without user testing. Just incorporated in the structure of your process as standard. If arguments such as no time or budget are holding your organisation back, it’s good to know that nowadays user testing does not have to be expensive and time-consuming.

Testing without complicated equipment

In the past, user testing was carried out in a separate room with one-way mirrors, camera arrays and eye-tracking devices. Not only has that equipment become cheaper, but there are also all kinds of new technologies for observing your respondents on their own devices. For our user tests we use Lookback.io: a test tool with which you can easily record mobile, tablet and desktop user experiences. Lookback records a user’s screen, facial expression, voice and all clicks and automatically places them online. Anyone who has access to the online environment can view the recordings themselves and add time-linked comments. This enables clients and colleagues to share and view the recordings regardless of their location. These kinds of handy test tools are being developed very rapidly. For example, Lookback.io has already been integrated into prototyping tools such as Invision and Marvel, and we can look forward to a live streaming service in the future.


Image 1 Analysing a user test of Oxxio using the online Lookback environment on a desktop.

Shorter testing

The trend is towards shorter testing periods. Snappy. So don’t try to test too much at the same time, and keep your reports brief. That makes user testing more like a regular checkup. Short iterative testing avoids a shopping list of improvements and results in concrete items for the backlog. Which you can again test further quickly after implementation.

Usability lab

In the past a usability lab could feel a bit like a police station: functional and clinical. Whilst you actually want to study behaviour in a natural environment and context. You can work in a standard meeting room, soundproof and with glass walls behind which the client can work and observe. Why not give your testing space the feel of a living room, with cosy carpet and a sofa? That setting ensures that the ‘I am being tested’ feeling is removed and the respondent feels comfortable. Because when do you use your tablet or smartphone? Probably at home on the sofa whilst waiting for the commercial break to end.

You don’t necessarily need to use a designated space. You can also go out on the streets (do make sure you address your target group) to recruit respondents on the spot. Even just a couple of questions can produce very valuable insights. Think of questions such as: what appeals to you in this design? What can you remember about the screen you just saw? Hence when developing an app for truck drivers we carried out on the spot testing at a truck stop alongside the A4 with real truckers.

Trade fairs and events can also be effective, particularly when they’re being organised by your client and there’s a strong loyalty to the company amongst the visitors. If you are doing on the spot testing don’t forget to bring a small token of appreciation for the respondents. It’s all about the smile and the physical memory you give them.

Finding respondents

When you’ve got everything all set for your user test, it’s nice if you’re respondents actually turn up. We have tested with a fee of both 20 and 60 euro. In the test with the lower fee, the number of cancellations on the day itself was significantly higher than with a higher fee. This aspect is therefore worth considering carefully. We recommend outsourcing the recruitment of respondents: it involves more work than you think. Allow the client to arrange it themselves through their own communication channels, or call in a recruitment agency. They will organise the entire recruitment from start to finish. This allows you to focus on the test, without the need to have to get involved with the logistical details. Provide the client or the agency will a clear profile for the respondents you want. For example: Customers aged between 20 and 40 who do not yet use the app. And carefully check beforehand that the respondents that have been recruited are actually representative of your target group. Cancelling a test because of a respondent who is not reliable for the results is in nobody’s interest. If you want to record the test, don’t forget to prepare a waiver to make sure there are no hiccups.

Creating internal support

Now that we know that simplified user testing is possible, the next step is to persuade your internal organisation. We need our sales tigers and project managers to ensure that user testing is included in the budget and timetable. Assess the mood internally and maybe start with a day of on the spot testing. Create support by presenting the benefits and the most significant insights so far snappily and visually. Reinforce the visibility of user testing by appointing a dedicated individual, then colleagues will know who to turn to for user testing.

Structured testing is becoming key

Once you’ve persuaded the organisation should you just test once? No. We’ve seen that user testing can have the greatest impact by incorporating it in your projects in a structured way. An example of that is Oxxio. Innovation is very important for Oxxio. Oxxio wants to be available and accessible on all channels in which the target group operates, so including smartwatches for example. That means constantly responding to developments, learning, iterating and then applying the learnings. Each release is subjected to structured testing, and a fixed day of the month is designated for testing. For us that is also the driver that keeps us focused on continuous improvement.

Our message is: don’t do anything without testing. Everything you come up with – every concept, design, functionality or improvement – can easily be tested. The challenge is to structurally embed user testing within your organisation so that sales and project managers also recognise its importance.

This article has been published in Dutch on Emerce