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October 16, 2019

The path of least resistance

Written By Ryan Hewitt
5 mins
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Why user testing improves your product and your users’ experience.
“The customer is always right.” It’s a universal truth you ignore at your peril, and it’s never more true than in the digital world.

We can make all kinds of assumptions about how people are going to get from A to B, but your users aren’t necessarily going to follow that path. They’re going to go the way that feels right for them, swiping and clicking as they see fit. Even worse, they’re going to duck out completely if they don’t see the value of your product or feature.

This is where user testing can often become overwhelming. It’s an investment in reality, providing an insight into how your users actually go about doing what you want them to do, rather than how you think they’re going to do it.

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Not how it looks, but how it works
It’s the reason we always, always suggest our clients conduct user testing.

Before you launch a new product or feature, before you start design, before the expense of development, user testing ensures your app, website, or software does exactly what you need it to do, and in a way that suits how your users want to do it.

We think it’s a no-brainer. If your product or feature helps people achieve their goal, they’ll love it, continue to use it, and recommend it to others. But all too often, despite these benefits, user testing isn’t a priority for many businesses.

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An investment in quality
Of course, some businesses have their reasons for swerving user testing. Budgets are a fact of life, and don’t often stretch too far. Lead times are real and we’re all under pressure to meet them. Lack of resources, and gaps in knowledge about user testing also play their part in missing this vital stage. But those businesses run the very real risk of launching something that people don’t want, can’t use or get lost in.

The reality is, there are levels of user testing to suit every budget and timeline, and any user testing is better than none. Whether at its most basic level, where we sketch out a concept on paper and test if people understand how it works, and its purpose, or a more sophisticated method of testing using clickable prototypes.

However, before any of that can be done, the first stage in validating your concept is discovery.

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Answering what your users’ want
Here we focus on the objective, not the process. We learn about your users. Who they are, how they interact and behave, their pain points and what they want to achieve. We also look at your competitors, checking what they’re doing in your space, and where we can learn from their strengths and weaknesses. We also learn and understand the goals and roadmap of the product, as well as the business goals and KPIs.

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The first steps towards your UX
Next we take all this information to create user flows for specific actions – to fill in a form or find the contact page for example – where we see where people enter, the actions they take, how long they take to perform them, and where they exit.

If there was any doubt at all about the value of user testing, the fact that the results are often surprising is telling. 9 out 10 people navigate in a way they want to do it, rather than via the assumed flow. Assumptions are frequently misplaced, even though we’ve set open tasks with a clear goal in mind. People do as they do.

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Testing with wireframes
The next phase is testing. Here we use everything we’ve learnt to create wireframes prototypes. These enable us to test usability, accessibility, structure and hierarchy. It gives us an early view of the optimal user experience patterns without committing valuable budget to producing polished, full-featured design and development. Here we can test our hypotheses against your users’ actions, and change things quickly and easily if needs be. Using an online user testing platform – such as Maze – or our clients’ own user groups, we get feedback through the comments users can add directly into the designs.

We add hotspots to track where people go wrong by mis-clicking, where they go right and their dwell time as they proceed through the flow. The data from this heat mapping gives a % success score to produce a usability rating. The higher the usability rating, the smoother and quicker the journey, with above 70% seen as good.

Multiple choice questions such as; how easy is it, how difficult is it and how did you feel, add human emotions to the hard data.

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Avoiding points of resistance
And here lies the issue if you don’t user test. Those incorrect assumptions become physical. They disrupt the user experience, and no amount of design can make the experience better. Another issue is thinking one round of user testing is enough. In our experience, if you’ve revealed problems in the user flow, and changed the wireframes to overcome one problem, it’s wise to test again to ensure you’ve amended it in the right way, to avoid introducing new obstacles.

Only after user testing, do we move onto the full UI, adding in design to the faster and more intuitive user flow.

Improving your users’ experience
The best feedback you can get is from the people who will be using your new products or features. User testing not only improves the quality of your investment, but also helps you build a strong case for stakeholder buy-in. And, most important of all, user testing improves your users’ experience by removing points of resistance. Which, after all, is what we’re all here to achieve.

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