Product Design and user testing. I know how it works…

Thinking you are your customer is a common mistake. Even if you fall into the category of your ideal customer, you know far too much about your product and cannot be impartial. Ladies and gentlemen, this is probably the biggest problem you will encounter on your journey to product success. Seriously.

So, before we begin, repeat after me, 

Just because I know this app inside out doesn’t mean my customers will get it… and no, it doesn’t mean they’re stupid.”

Even seasoned product builders need help with this. The best way to test this theory is to test it. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was that user testing will show you things you never imagined about your software.

User testing – The easy way

When we hear user testing most of us freeze on the spot. It sounds professional and, frankly, a little scary. However, user testing in its most basic format is as simple as grabbing a colleague on Zoom and having them run through your software.

Ideally, you’ll invite real customers or people from the demographic you want to serve to test your software. However, your peers will be fine if you are at the very beginning of your product journey. This will serve to highlight any major flaws in your thinking

If you think asking strangers to test your software might be an imposition, or if people simply aren’t responding to your requests for feedback, offer them an Amazon (or something less evil) gift card or even a discount on your software. But in most cases, folks are more than happy to help, especially if they’re excited about what you’re building.

Here are some key things to remember before running your first test session.

Define your goals

What tasks do you want your tester to perform and why? For example, you might want to ask them how they would navigate to a particular section of your app and perform a task. As it’s a task you’ll be very familiar with, you might be surprised how others struggle to carry out basic actions. 

A minimum of five testers

Try to include a minimum of 5 testers per goal. This will give a clearer idea of what needs to be adjusted in your app. With 5 testers, you should begin to see recurring problems.

Record your sessions, but…

Let your testers know that the session will be recorded.

Run ‘live’ tests

While uncomfortable, ensure you are on the video call when the test runs. Asynchronous videos are less than ideal for user testing. You’ll want to see where folks trip up and the expressions on their faces when they are unsure of something. Also, you’ll want them to “think out loud,” so being on the call is the preferred option.

Who should test your SaaS?

If you are a sole founder/dev, don’t worry whether the testers are your ideal customers. You want to determine during the early stages whether the app works as your testers expect. This testing can be helpful if you’re building in a bubble. However, ignore this if your software is very niche. The more niche, the more targeted your testers should be.

It’s all about the mood

Keep things relaxed and casual. This isn’t IBM headquarters.

Assure testers of their role

Let testers know that your software is under the microscope, not them. They cannot do anything wrong. 

Thinking ‘out loud’

Ask them to explain their actions; this will help you better understand what they’re thinking. It will also help you see where they stumble, where they are unsure, or when they simply get lost.

Don’t help, except when

Don’t give any hints (this is harder than you might think) unless they are completely stuck. In this case, it’s OK to provide some basic help.

At the end of each session

Once the session ends, thank your tester and ask where to send the voucher/gift. 

Review all your recorded tests

When you have a quiet period, review the recordings and take notes on problematic areas for your testers. Once you have several tests, you can compare problem areas across all the sessions. Problems to pay attention to are those suffered by more than one tester. Hearing something once is not indicative of a real problem. Outliers are hard to design for and may create completely unnecessary work. 

As soon as you realize that not everyone thinks like you, you will greatly increase your chances of success.

Running live user tests can be a little nerve-wracking at first, but once you get into it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner. It’s easy to create user personas and flows, but in the end, there is no substitute for getting into the minds of real users.

You’ll learn more in a morning of user testing than in months of theoretical study.

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