One of the main obstacles I come across when putting forward ideas for user testing for a project, is time:
“We’re on a very tight deadline, we can’t fit in testing,” “Can we leave it until the next release? There isn’t enough time at the moment.” “We just haven’t added in the time for all that user testing stuff.”
But the good news is – there is always time.
User testing, or usability testing (which is what we should really call it as we’re testing if things are usable, not testing the users themselves) can be extremely flexible. It can range from a detailed study of hundreds of painstakingly selected users, conducted in specially constructed labs with hidden screens, video recording devices and microphones, costing thousands of credits, with months to analyse and report the results. On the other end of the scale, it can simply be asking someone you pass in the corridor to look at a quick sketch of a wireframe you’ve made on the back of a napkin.
User testing can be both of these things, and everything in between, and yes, this can depend on time, and of course the other buzzword that sits so closely next to it – money. The thing is, it’s always better to do something, rather than nothing, however tight a deadline is – even if that is just asking a few users to try out a particular feature or function that you’re developing – whether this be with a flat mock-up or a working prototype.
Setting up some basic tests with a handful of users, running them and then writing up the results doesn’t need to take more than a day or two. The results will be pretty simple, and depending on the tests, will more likely be useful as a sense-check than a source of detailed information on user behaviour or working patterns, but this is still valuable stuff that can make or break a new feature. The results will broadly have one of three outcomes – user’s just didn’t ‘get it’ and there are big problems to be fixed; there are smaller problem’s that have slipped everyone’s mind but the user’s found fairly quickly; or (rarely, almost never) everything was perfect and the users had a seamless, faultless experience.
After I’ve reached this point in the discussion, I sometimes come across another potential user research blocker…
“But there’s no point in finding this out, we don’t have enough time to change things before our deadline.”
It may be true that there’s no time to redesign a feature based on recommendations from user testing results in your current cycle – but it’s better to go into the next phase of a project already knowing at least a bit about what user’s think. If you’re in the final stage of a project, these kind of problems can be treated as bugs and ticked off one at a time.
It’s easy to become blinkered with a project, working with the same concepts, terminology and use patterns day after day – it can become hard to think – “if I was looking at all this stuff for the first time, would it make sense?” User testing in its quickest and simplest form aims to answer this question. And that’s something there’s always time for.