User testing can turn a good web or mobile app into a great one. But what’s the best methodology? Try out these 6 unusual user testing methods and boost your app development process
User testing is a key part of any good software development project – testing reveals glitches you might never have suspected existed, and show up superfluous design elements that might have cost you money in the long run.
And if you use a prototyping tool to user-test with interactive wireframes and high fidelity prototypes, you’ll know exactly how users interact with your web or mobile app before the real thing is even built. And you’ll save dollars: it’s 100x more expensive to change a coded feature than to change a prototype, according to Web Usability.
As a seasoned designer and all round expert, you’re up to speed on moderated and unmoderated user testing, A/B usability tests and the importance of prototypes… but are you similarly familiar with these more unorthodox approaches to user testing?Taking a more creative approach to user testing your prototype can pay big dividends in time and money, so incorporate these 6 unusual user testing methods into your next app development project. Your users will thank you for it.
User testing method 1: Participatory design
If you want to make sure you’re taking a user-centered approach to app development, there’s no better way than dabbling in a bit of Participatory design. Participatory design is when end-users are involved from the very early stages of the design process, working collaboratively with the design team to define the product. Instead of trying to put ourselves in the users’ shoes, we put them in ours as designers.
Of course, leveraging this methodology correctly takes some organization. Check out how Pinterest uses participatory design for inspiration on building the practice into the early stages of your next design project.
User testing method 2: Drunk people
Hats off to David Zax writing in Fast Company for this truly unorthodox approach. As Zax points out, a decade ago it made sense to user test your software in sterile office environments, but with the explosion of mobile computing people’s software use has grown legs and walked right out of the office. Now, your mobile software will in all likelihood be used anywhere but the office or home.
So why not do user testing in the wild? Dave Lieb did just that, taking his app Bump on a bar crawl to be tested on users who were, thanks to a couple of drinks, “a little cognitively depleted or impaired—not unlike the typical multitasker”.
The experiment revealed some key flaws in assumptions the designers had made about how much brain energy users wanted to commit to learning the app.
Obviously we’re not suggesting that you get users sauced before breaking out the A/B Test… but putting yourself and your testers in real world situations might just reveal something that takes your software from meh to awesome.
User testing method 3: Test your own wireframes
Interactive prototypes have pretty much revolutionized user testing. But how about being even more savvy and user testing also on static wireframes? If you assume you need to be at the fully functional prototype stage to do user testing, then think again.
Prototyping tools like Justinmind can be great for introducing user testing at any stage of the design process: running your low fidelity mockups past users can help you identify potential problems with navigation flows that you may not have perceived, and reveal counter-intuitive user interface elements.
Collaborative prototyping tools can help you mock up prototypes that have clearly defined user flows and realistic navigation patterns, so your users feel like they’re using the real thing.
Also, if your mobile or web app is already up and running and you just want to introduce an aesthetic change, running this change past users in lo-fi mockups will help users focus on key elements.
Prototypes help you introduce user testing at various stages of the design process, helping you round out your testing strategy without blowing your budget or running over schedule.
Use testing method 4: Triading
Particularly useful at the conceptual design stage, triading is a great way of revealing your users’ reactions and emotions. The methodology is deceptively simple – you are trying to get the user to compare and evaluate 3 different alternatives, without influencing them through your questioning.
So, for example, present them with three different designs or prototypes – A, B, C – and ask them to tell you what differentiates one of the designs and why.
So you’re not asking “which one do you like best?”, which closes down analysis; you’re asking them to tell you what is important and why. Keep asking them more and more focused questions until you get to their core needs and desires. They might end up surprising you with what they really need from your software.
User testing method 5: Let your users create their own user tests
We’re inspired by the example of language app Duolingo, which uses data collected from its community of users to make frequent tweaks to the content and organization of the app. Interviewed in fast Company, founder Luis von Ahn explained how Duolingo uses A/B Testing to figure out how people learn languages, and change the app experience based on that info.
Duolingo turned user testing into “large-scale data-driven learning”, in von Ahn’s words, and transferred to users the power to create thier own language courses within in app.
Check out Luis von Ahn’s TED talk on Duolingo’s unorthodox approach to user testing
User testing method 6: Product reaction cards
It’s not just software startups like Duolingo that can take a fresh approach to user testing. Take the example of Microsoft, who wrote the rule book on using adjective cards to access users’ deepest desires. It’s super simple but super revealing.
The user is exposed to a piece of software, then given a 118 cards with adjectives written on, and asked to describe the experience using 3-5 of the cards. Then get the user to explain why they chose what they did. We told you it was simple! But this approach can help reveal the more intangible elements of your UX, such as ‘fun’ and ‘desire’, feelings that you might want to instill in your users but not yet have figured out a test for.
User testing is integral to a successful software development project. But blending traditional methodologies and technologies with more left field approaches will allow you to test your mobile or web app way beyond the average usability spectrum. And that means you’ll end up with an app that users really connect with, every time they use it.