Betina Evancha


Bad User Testing > No User Testing

This week a colleague I admire approached me about a project he’s working on. “I’d like to do user testing, but it’s a lot of effort and I don’t think there’s much I can learn. Plus I’m not sure how to get the right users.”

At the time, I struggled to respond. Yet it’s continued to bother me, so much that I’ll break it down for you.

“It’s a lot of effort.”

User testing can be expensive. The industry standard is, which costs a whopping $100/15 minute video. I supplement with its budget competitor “Bob” offers less experienced testers with fewer demographic specifications at $1/minute. A test can cost as little as $25, or the price of one company t-shirt.

Employee time is much more expensive, but remote usability testing excels here, too. User Testing and User Bob select, pay, and record the users I need. This reduces testing time to about an hour of setup, monitoring, and analysis.

A user test is not a lot of effort: it’s a company t-shirt and a midday lunch. Ok, onwards.

“I don’t think there’s much I can learn.”

Some people think of user testing as a black box: insert questions about how your users think, and receive answers. The truth is, the user testing black box follows bizarre physics. The answer you seek might appear, or the box might explode into another type of thing all together.

I always learn something from a usability test, even if it’s that my design works. $25 and an hour for peace of mind? Great bargain. And in the best case, you’ll find out something terrible about your design that you can fix before it’s live.

“I’m not sure how to get the right users.”

Many user testing advocates will instruct you to find a user as close to your target market as possible. They’re correct. But consider a trainer who advocates a complex full-body routine over taking long walks. A great routine is better than a poor one, but they both beat sitting on the couch.

Don’t let employees of usability platforms sell you fancy demographic filters and sentiment analysis. Get off the couch.

Look for the right users, but don’t let looking for them keep you from testing. The only tester you have nothing to learn from is yourself. Here’s a list of people with untapped insight: coworkers in another department, your nearly deaf Grandma, a stranger at Starbucks, evangelists for the competitor.

I’m not saying that you have to act on this feedback, or even interpret it as the user means it. Often it’s a user’s tone of voice, their body language, and their pauses that are most useful.

While you’re waiting for the right interview, you could be learning something unexpected from the wrong user.

Not sure what a user test will tell you? Do it anyway. Don’t have time? Your emails can wait. Can’t find the testers you need? Find a cheaper way, even if it’s worse.

Don’t worry — just jump in. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

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