User Tests kill Egos

User Tests kill Egos


From a creative process usually come many many feature ideas. And with some of them the team falls in love. Or the customer likes to add a feature for corporate or political reasons. Sometimes when you are developing a piece of software you think you have the ultimate master plan. You love it, your customer loves it, what can go wrong. If you have some money to burn, just develop this feature and throw it onto the market… In more cases than anyone of us likes to admit it goes that way. And in a large amount of these cases the software never reaches the success everyone was hoping for…

But wait, there’s a solution: user testing! Yes, you know that already, but let’s be honest, when was the last time you did proper user testings?! And if everyone is super-confident about a feature, why not prove it by the users?

Well, it frequently happens that user testing shows that your killer-feature idea is in fact crap. It hurts, but it’s true. But first things first.

What is user testing?

The user should be your highest priority. Ideally usability pros talk to them, identify their needs and requirements. In every step of the developing process you can do user testings. You can do focus group testing in a very early state to test, verify or refine your ideas. You can do guided testings on the system even with an early paper-prototype. As your system comes to live you can test it with users at any time with guided interviews and learn from the results with short iterative cycles. In fact, the earlier you start involving your users the better!

But user testing is expensive!

No, it’s not. For most testing methods you only need 5 users per closed user group! With only 5 users you can identify over 80% of usability problems. And each test should not take longer than an hour. Yes, it’s right that you need to invest some time. But try to see the value of it: if you identify problems in an early state of development, you save a huge amount of money and time in the end!

Yeah, and the thousands of user wishes… *sigh*

Yes, if you do user testing, especially focus group interviews you’ll get many wishes, ideas and requests from the user itself. But it should be your mantra that “User wishes are not relevant” (tell that to yourself, 5 times in the morning each day!). That sounds hard, but it’s mostly true. A part of an usability engineers job is to identify user needs and formulate them into requirements. If you have a wish from a user (or maybe from the customer), see if you can find that in the requirements. Users know what they want most of the time, but seldom know what they need. It’s an UX pros task to know that. I don’t say you should ignore user wishes completely. Write them down, see if you get the same wish repeatedly. Maybe there’s an user need which is not identified yet.

Ok, and now what about this awesome feature idea?

You have a few basic ideas on user testing. And maybe you are pretty sure, your feature idea fits the user needs. Still, test your feature. It happens that, yes, the requirements are considered, but the realization is not what fits the user and his context. But but but… yes, you loved that feature… yes, the customer wanted that feature… but maybe the users don’t. Never try to downplay the results (do more user testing if you don’t believe it!). I know it’s hard, especially with customer required features. I’ll come to that in another post…

But for now: Put your damaged ego back on the work desk and try again. The users have spoken!

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