The complete guide to User Testing - Chapter 5

18 user testing questions for a better user experience

user testing questions for better UX

Strategic user testing questions can offer valuable insights into the minds of your users. Take note of these 18 interrogatives for your next user testing session!

We all know user testing is important. And there’s a special art when it comes to user testing prototypes or wireframes. But what do you actually say to your users during the test?

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Apart from ensuring the test runs smoothly, you’ll need to do your best to obtain the most information possible from your users. By doing this, you make sure that no time or money is wasted. That’s easier said than done, however, as everything you say during the test has an impact on the findings.

To truly test your product’s usability, it’s vital that you don’t help the users or impact their actions or decisions during the session. Therefore, it’s vital that you talk only when necessary, and anything you say should have the goal of soliciting useful information (or pushing the user to make a decision). The user testing questions on this list are designed to do just that!

We’ve included some of the most important user testing questions to ask during and after the testing session. Obviously, you may need to adapt certain questions to fit whatever product you’re designing, but each one will give you an idea of what you should be asking!

User testing questions

Let’s assume you’ve done your introduction and explained to your users the tasks they need to do. The test has now started, but that doesn’t mean that you should just sit back in la-la land till the time’s up.

This is an important stage of the test and you’ll need to use specific user testing questions that (a) don’t distract your users and (b) gleans as much insight as possible. You might consider working the following questions into your next testing session:

What’s going through your mind as you view [x]?

Getting an idea of what your users are thinking as they navigate through the different screens of your product might give you and your observers an idea as to whether or not they’re enjoying the experience.

User testing questions - look inside the mind

The question may prompt a train of thought and even nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language. Situations where you might ask this user testing question might be with a homepage, a data table, a list or even a glowing call to action button. It can also serve as a funnel for them to open up on any problems they may be anticipating.

If you were looking for [x], where would you expect to find it?

This user testing question really depends on the situation. You may even find that it works better to ask this one before or after the test. Asking this question to your users, whether during or after the test, can reveal their mental models and show you whether or not your design fits in with their expectations.

A mental model is an idea or preconceived notion or concept of how something works based on a user’s past experience.

Maybe you thought your new menu design was innovative. Maybe it would just confuse or frustrate your users, causing them to abandon the homepage. At the end of the day, there’s no way to know without asking and observing, for which this user testing question is ideal.

Echo, boomerang and Columbo

No, we haven’t gone insane – you’re in safe hands. Echo, boomerang and Columbo are not user testing questions per se, rather common techniques for asking them. Can you guess the types of questions they reflect? According to the Nielsen Norman Group, you should perform the echo, boomerang and columbo techniques as you are carrying out the test.

Echo

As the name suggests, the echo technique means parroting a user’s statement right back at them, but in the form of a question. The idea behind this is that, as the user thinks out loud, you get them to expand on any problems they perceive.

user testing techniques

Here’s an example – let’s say your user has to sign up using a form in your app prototype. They have the following stream of thought:

User: “Okay…I have to sign up first…oh, but the form is weird…”

Moderator: “The form is weird?”

User: “Yeah, it’s confusing – looks like all the fields are already highlighted, but I haven’t selected any.”

Remember, the idea is never to help or guide the user through the actual task they have to complete. You’re just aiming to gain an insight into their thought process and find problems that could affect the usability of your product.

Boomerang

The boomerang technique is called so because you’re literally throwing the question back at the user – but in a nice way. This is to encourage the user to answer their own questions rather than letting you guide them. This way you can get real insights into your product’s usability.

User testing questions - boomerang technique

Take the following example – you’re testing the auto-fill feature of a sign-in form and the user sees his password show up in grey to indicate that they can automatically enter the details with a tap:

User: “ah…I see the password there in grey, but how do I confirm it? If I tap on it will it disappear? Or maybe I should tap to the right of the characters to fill in the field?

Facilitator: “What would you normally do?”

User: “Well, I’ve used similar apps and normally tapped to the right and the field fills in by itself so, maybe if I do that here…”.

Again, like echo, the boomerang technique is not about guiding the user, but gaining insight into their mental models, that is, how they expect things to work. However, this technique is also a friendly way of pushing them to carry out each step themselves, as if they were on their own.

Columbo

Everyone’s familiar with Lieutenant Columbo. He always acted less intelligent and aware than he actually was, encouraging his suspects to be more careless.

Now you’re not exactly trying to catch the user out, but rather trying to investigate by letting them take the lead. With the columbo technique you’re basically dumbing down your questions, pausing more and speaking more slowly, encouraging the user to provide their own responses.

User testing questions - Columbo technique

Consider a situation where the user is filling in a three-page form on your app and when they get to the end, it turns out they made a mistake on the first page:

User: “hmmm…but if go back now, will I lose everything?”

Facilitator: “Uhm…you want to know…if you go back – ”

User: “Yeah…if I hit return to go back and correct the error, will I lose all the details, or should I press the back button?”

Facilitator: “All the details?”

User: “Yeah, every answer I gave on the previous pages.”

Obviously, there’s a limit to how much you dumb it down. You don’t want to frustrate the user because that could impact the test. What you do want is a clearer view of their train of thought, to see how much they actually know about the scenario they’re in or to push them to try things themselves.

With this example, a natural follow-on might be a boomerang question. What would you ask in this case?

Post-user testing user testing questions (specific)

Even after the task has finished, the test still isn’t over. You’ll need to probe your users about the overall specifics of the product. You’ll ideally ask them how they found the features and whether or not the task was easy to accomplish.

How did you find using the app/website to complete [x] task?

This user testing question is obvious. Asking for the user’s opinion gives them the opportunity to open up, not just about the technicalities of the product, but how they felt while they were using it. A product with great usability will offer an efficient, satisfactory experience.

User testing questions - post testing phase

Ask this user testing question after each task to evaluate the end-to-end UX. It will shine a light on how the user’s emotions, opinions and experience are impacted and evolve with each task. Maybe you could streamline some tasks, or eliminate them altogether?

When the user responds to this question, listen to any part of the task that might have caused them particular frustration and any part they particularly liked.

What did you think should have happened there?

Using a new product can be confusing, even with coherent design. People find it difficult to articulate exactly what they don’t understand, or why.

By asking what the user thinks should have happened, you get a clear sense of the disparity between how things are and how they should be. Answers to this user testing question can give you a path to a more intuitive and user friendly product. Remember: having a coherent product from start to finish translates to good usability.

User testing questions - unsatisfactory outcomes

What do you think of [x], [y] and [z]?

After working so hard and creating something out of nothing, we can get stuck in a loop. We see the product in a certain way and assume others do too, which is a serious mistake. What matters is how the users see your product, and all user testing questions aim to illustrate users’ perceptions.

Your users will be able to tell you exactly what they think about each feature of your product that you test. Then and only then, will you know whether or not it’s worth carrying this feature along into the next iteration of your product.

Why didn’t you use [x] feature?

Giving users the time to explore and play around with your product without any direction can tell you a lot about the features and their usability. If the user is free to explore and intentionally ignores a certain aspect or feature of your product, you’ll want to know why.

User Testing Blog recommends using this question because it can open your eyes to the true face of each feature in your product. Is that feature’s presence logical in the product? Is it easy to reach within the product? Many entrepreneurs and startups get so excited about delivering the best possible outcome that they rush to include as many features as possible.

why not use one feature user testing question

It’s perfectly logical to want a product that is complete in solving problems for users. But you can also end up with a product crammed with endless features that users just won’t use. No value added, just extra cost. Use your user testing questions to make sure all features come together in harmony and keep an eye out for features that can be improved or altogether eliminated.

I saw you did [x]. Can you tell me why?

Ask this user testing question if you want to learn the thought processes behind users’ actions taking a certain action if it wasn’t clear during the test. This can provide you a wealth of information about the user’s mental models and their expectations.

An example might be where a user got stuck and asked the facilitator for confirmation. Imagine the facilitator boomeranged his question back with “what would you do?” So the user took the action they normally would with another app but without explaining why in that moment.

Did you notice there was any other way to accomplish [x]?

Imagine you were testing out alternative navigation paths during your testing session. You could ask this user testing question to understand why they chose one path over another. Maybe one way of doing things was more intuitive, or perhaps the other methods of achieving the task weren’t immediately visible or apparent.

User testing questions - alternative navigation paths

Whatever the reason they give, you’ll want to make note of it as you’ll save time and money in the long run coding various parts of your app or website that most people probably won’t use.

Post-user testing questions (generalized)

After the test, you’ll also want to ask some more generalized user testing questions to get an overview about what the user thought of your product. This can help give you and your team an idea whether or not you’re headed in the right direction. It’s useful to ask them what they thought about aspects such as layout and overall intuitiveness.

What did you think of the layout of the content?

Asking this user testing question will help your user to reflect on the whole task they just carried out with your product.

What to discover with your user testing questions

This is useful for two reasons. The first is that it will help give you an idea of how they really felt while completing the task if it wasn’t evident during the test. The second is that you can later compare each problem and success you recorded with their overall opinion and see if it’s what you expected.

Maybe everything in your form-filling task went very well, except for two questions. You might expect the user to be happy overall, but perhaps those two problematic elements had a high interaction cost, cancelling out the positive effect of everything else.

Interaction cost is the time and attention required of a user to complete a task. It’s generally a negative aspect you should try to reduce to improve the UX. Learn more in our guide to interaction design!

What did you think of the on-page instructions?

Asking this user testing question is important because it tells you whether or not you need to include clearer copy in your product. Whether it be an app or a website, your product might need to incorporate some basic level of instruction to help your users accomplish tasks.

An example of this might be in-line instructions in a form, informing the user what type of data to enter or if they’ve made an error and how to fix it. Explanations or instructions should be succinct and to the point – including long instructions will only increase the time it takes to complete a task, as well as the interaction cost.

Who do you know that would like this product?

This is a clever way to ask the user to describe your product indirectly, minus any social pressure. Beautifully explained by Purple Design’s Chris Gallello, this user testing question has lots to offer.

In truth, users don’t usually like telling you that they don’t like the product even during user testing sessions – so give them a comfortable way of doing so. Instead of asking if the user would use your product, ask them about their friends and family.

User testing questions - alternative userbases

Imagine a user tells you their brother would most likely use and enjoy your product. Maybe their brother isn’t your target user, but it does tell you a lot about how the user perceives the product.

“What is your brother like?” will render an insight into the link between the brother and the product. If the user says the brother is straightforward, no nonsense and analytical, then that is how they see your product. Is this how you want your product to be seen? Is there a great disparity between the brother’s description and your target market?

Can you think of any other product that resembles this one?

If you’re carrying out user testing, you’ve most likely already identified your main competitors. But it can be insightful to hear from users exactly what products out there they think can match or compare to yours.

Users have an interesting way of drawing comparison among products. Their reasoning can include functionality, design, pricing or some personal reason why your product reminds them of another product.

This can be useful in both finding other possible competitors you may have overlooked, and finding products that evoke the same design and personality. You could probably learn a thing or two from them. Well-planned user testing questions can bring all sorts of benefits!

Would you use another device for this product?

You can never afford to overlook the importance of the devices on which your product can be used. Be it tablets, smartphones or regular computers – it is important to know which one could fit in with your target users.

User testing questions - multiple devices

Aside from a matter of design, the device used for your product can impact how long users are on it, what they do with it and how often they come back.

Whether it’s on a cell phone, tablet, PC or smartphone, take the opportunity during your user testing to see which devices you can expect users to utilize, and adapt your design accordingly.

What didn’t you like about the product?

Granted. This isn’t really a question. But just like any other user testing question here, this can give you an advantage over the competition. Here is the twist: when you ask this question, show the user your main competitor’s product instead of your own.

This clever trick was created by UX guru and author Laura Klein – you can read more about it in her book UX for lean startups. It’s a great read.

Nobody wants to help the competition do better. But being aware of where the competition fell short of user’s expectations provides us with a map of what to avoid. No matter the size nor the market share, no product is beyond improvement. Your competitors might have some great features or incredible design, but their product has its flaws – and users can tell exactly what those flaws are.

This can be a creative way to identify gaps in the industry or aspects that your competitors have neglected. You’ll improve your product and offer users everywhere something truly unique that will keep them coming back.

What did you like about this product?

This user testing question is obviously a no-brainer but we’ve included it in the list because, sometimes, when we focus on all the details, we forget the simple stuff!

When you wrap up your user testing session, asking your users what they liked about your product shows if your initial assumptions were correct. Ideally, you will have made these assumptions based on user research and empirical evidence. You can probe further by asking them why they liked a certain feature.

User testing questions - smiles can mask real emotions

Additionally, take note of any nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice and body language. Whether because they think it’s compulsory or because they’re just being polite, users might pretend to like a certain feature more than they actually did.

Final thoughts

Coming up with the right user testing questions can be a challenge. Just remember that the final goal with user testing is to gather insight into how your user’s mind works. It’s always best to plan your user testing questions and carry out the test as early as possible. Give your users the space to make their own way around your product.

Once you have your user testing questions planned out, you’ll be closer to a final product your users can love.

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Joseph Downs
In-house UX copy-slinger, foodie and classic motoring enthusiast