21 August 2018

3 Common User Testing Methods for User-Centred Digital Projects

User testing is a fundamental part of UX and service design as it tells us who the user is, what context they will use the product in and the goals they are looking to achieve when using it. In an user-centered industry, testing is paramount.

There are many techniques for testing and validating design ideas and some of the most popular ones are usability testing, A/B testing and surveys. In this article, I’ll dive into what each of them are, when they should be used, and what each of them typically involves.

1. Usability Testing

Usability testing is the process of watching the user while they use the product to see if it is in fact usable. This is the best way to understand how users experience the product (e.g. a website / app). There are two types of usability testing: moderate and unmoderated.

Moderated Usability Testing

Moderated usability testing can happen in person or remotely, but in both cases the moderators are present with the users, facilitating them through tasks, engaging with real time feedback and answering questions.

This type of testing is recommended at any stage of the project, from the very start start - using low-fidelity paper prototypes (to guide initial wireframes and design concepts) - to fully functional, high fidelity prototypes (to finalise interactions and functionality).

The challenge for the moderator in this type of research is to guide the user, not help them - which is a fine balance, but when struck properly, the tasks can provide rewarding feedback.

Here's an example of a moderated usability test in action from usertesting.com: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CflcnF7O-k&feature=youtu.be&t=8m28s

Unmoderated Remote Usability Testing (URUT)

Unmoderated remote usability testing (URUT) is a technique designed to help you overcome the downsides of moderated usability testing. While moderated usability testing is undeniably useful it suffers from the fact that it is time consuming, it takes a lot of effort to recruit participants, the costs are usually too high to conduct moderated testing with large numbers of users and they are observed outside of their usual environment - which may change their behaviours (see Hawthorne Effect).

The advantage of this method is that is offers quick, robust and inexpensive user testing results - with the use of usability testing tools that automatically gather user feedback and record their behaviour. 

URUT is recommended when you have very specific questions about how people use an interface for simple tasks and when a larger sample is needed to prove key findings from initial moderated research. That means it measures how satisfied (or not) a user is with the interface and operability of the product.

For both moderated and unmoderated user testing, it is also a good idea to include an initiation questionnaire as well as a post test interview to get more qualitative information rather than just the quantitative data gathered from usability testing.

Here's an example of an unmoderated usability test in action from usertesting.com: https://youtu.be/lhHafCQ-_0w?t=4m56s

2. A/B Testing

A/B testing is ideally used when designers are struggling to choose between two competing elements when building an interface. The method consists of showing one of two versions randomly to an equal number of users and reviewing analytics on which version accomplished a specific goal more effectively. 

This testing is frequently used when comparing a revised screen to an older version and or trying to detect small differences in designs - but it is important to remember that A/B testing does not have to be just the original and the variant, it can also be used for testing multiple variants.

Here's an example of an A/B test:

3. Surveys

Surveys and questionnaires are an easy and effective way to gather a higher volume of information about users needs, desires and pains - with minimal time invested. 

Whether you want to complement your existing remote user testing, create surveys to find out more about your demographics, or even use them for a different purpose altogether, with a little imagination your options are almost endless. 

The key benefit of this method is its ability to accumulate quantitative data about overall user satisfaction or collect quantitative data to support qualitative research findings. But it is important to have in mind that you can not study user behaviour with surveys, so no context or any usability problems they face can be added to your studies without considering other research methods. 

Getting the questions right and knowing the right audience for them are the secrets for a good survey - and this can be quite time consuming. Popular and cost effective survey tools are SurveyMonkey and Google Forms.

How do I decide what is the best user testing technique for each project?

The appropriate method depends on the specific research goals and most studies will involve a combination of user testing techniques as different types of user testing suit different types of goals. It is also important to have both qualitative and quantitative data in order to get real value and well rounded user insights.

The best format of user testing depends on what the product is, what we need to learn about it and how much time and budget is available.

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