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UX Testing For The Masses: Keep It Simple And Cost Effective

User experience design (UXD or UED) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product.
This nicely encapsulates what the design part is all about, but what about the other equally important facet of UX, the testing process? The former can be self-taught, at least to a degree. The latter can be considered as one of the more misunderstood, but ultimately necessary steps in UX design. It has to be effective and involve the most important people – your users/customers.
For the UX guru-in-training, testing can be a difficult and overwhelming topic to approach initially, due to its sheer scale and the diverse directions it can take. This can sometimes be confusing and misleading, depending on which area you wish to focus on and what your professional background is.
For the sake of this article, we’ll approach UX testing from the aspect of a web/app designer who wishes to extend their UI design skills and better understand the core User Centered Design (UCD) approach to an application that should take place before Photoshop or Axure are even powered up.

Understanding User Centered Design (UCD)

Before we proceed to testing, let’s start by explaining the basic concept behind UCD.
UCD places the user first in the design and development cycle of an application/website. UCD is based around an understanding of the application’s environment, tasks, and its users. It then addresses the complete user experience as a whole.
What this basically means is that the entire design process involves real users throughout, in order to ensure the end product meets its initial brief requirement as fully as possible.
To sum up the process in its most basic form (there are many variations of UCD), the following phases are as follows:
  • Context of use: Identify who will use the product and what they will use it for, and under what conditions they intend to use it.
  • Requirements: Identify any business requirements or user goals that must be met for the product to be successful.
  • Design solutions: This part of the process may be done in stages, building from a rough concept to a complete design through a number of iterations.
  • Evaluation of designs: Ideally through usability testing with actual users. This step is just as important for UCD as quality testing is to good software development.
Some of the techniques and methods used in UCD are:

Card Sorting

Card sorting can offer useful insight at the UX Design/Design stage.
Card sorting involves participants being given an unsorted group of cards, each card has a statement on it relating to a page or section of the website. The participants are then asked to sort the cards into groups and name them.
Card sorting is a simple and effective way of testing your UX designs on a range of different subjects.
This is usually a great way of learning what your website navigation and content structure should look like, and how they should work in a way that’s logical to your intended user base.

Usability Testing Session

A usability testing session involves collecting data from a group as they use the website/interactive prototypes. It usually comes at a relatively high cost, because it involves a lot of human interaction and legwork.
What does a usability testing session look like? People are invited to attend a session during which they will be asked to perform a series of tasks on the website, while you or the moderator takes notes. The user will often be asked to fill in a questionnaire at the end of the test, to ascertain how difficult it was to perform certain tasks, such as buy a product on an e-commerce site from a specific category page and proceed to checkout.
This type of testing is usually reserved for high-end interactive prototypes or interactive wireframes. It is a great way of gathering data on the most common issues real-world users will encounter.

Focus Groups

Focus group testing is more or less self-explanatory. It involves asking focus group members (which could be site users or the intended target audience) a series of questions related to the website, and being encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings on different related areas of the site design/wireframes.
UX tests involving user groups and questionnaires can cover a broad demographic, but both come with trade-offs.
It’s normally a good idea to have an experienced moderator during such a group session to ensure accurate notes are taken. Additionally, a good moderator should be able to identify the telltale signs of groupthink, and make sure that the whole process is not negatively affected by group dynamics.

Questionnaires

Questionnaires can be a great way of generating invaluable solid statistical data – providing the right questions are asked.
A questionnaire can be particularly useful when you want to collect a much more varied cross-section of data than could be achieved through a small focus group. It can also be argued that people tend to be more honest without the immediate pressure of being in a small user group.
The risk of groupthink is averted, so individuals will make their own decisions.

Testing on a Tight Budget or Timescale

Don’t worry, none of these processes are set in stone. In case you are forced to operate on a tight budget or cut corners to meet a hard deadline, there are ways of streamlining the process without sacrificing too much.
If you have to UX test on a tight budget or on short notice, you will have to cut corners and think outside the box.
For example, you could organize part of these processes differently, or merge them together and use your friends and family as test subjects if needs be. What is important is that you are actively seeking involvement, feedback, and constructive criticism on the processes you design from other people.
If your budget and schedule won’t allow you to do everything you had in mind, you need to think outside the box and come up with new ways of obtaining usable test results. While this approach involves some tradeoffs, you should still be able to get a lot of actionable information from your test subjects.
This post originally appeared in the Toptal Engineering blog

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