User Testing: Why are we still having to fight its case?

by IxDF Course Instructor | | 5 min read

Why conduct user testing?

There are no guarantees in design; something embraced by one group may well be rejected by another, but this does not mean we should discount the benefits of speaking to, observing, and testing a sample of users. User-centred design emphasises the importance of engaging the people who will ultimately use a product or service.

Naturalistic Vs. Artificial Settings

There are many different methods available in user testing, but collectively the central aim is to gain an understanding of the target users. Designers may be able to determine the effectiveness of certain aspects of their products and services, but to gain clear insights into how users will react to and interact with the design, they should almost always be involved in the process.

User testing typically occurs in one of two settings: either the intended environment(s), such as the users’ workplace, or an artificial setting, which may or may not be mocked up to replicate the intended environment(s). The latter take place in a ‘laboratory’ (i.e. the design equivalent) or another controlled setting, to reduce the potential that results might be affected or biased by one or more extraneous variables.

Testing in the natural, intended environment is usually desired, as the testers get to see how users behave with the product/service in their usual surroundings. User behaviour should then be more representative and reveal the effects of the design on the user, and how well it accommodates the conditions of use.

8 reasons why you should conduct user testing

Usability testing is an essential stage in the design process for a number of reasons:

1. Potential, unforeseen, problems can be identified.
2. Necessary design features can be identified and included.
3. Unnecessary design features can be identified and removed.
4. The user can help crystallise the functions and purpose of the device or system in the designers' minds.
5. Involving real users in the design process can keep the device or system in tune with the intended users. This is especially important for designs intended for people with specific needs, such as those with disabilities. 
6. Real users have a level of detachment that the designers lack (i.e. they provide an unbiased view of the usability of a design).
7. User testing focuses on the user, rather than the practicalities, cost implications or any other factor from the business side of the process. 
8. Perhaps the most important reason for carrying out usability testing is that it provides answers to serious design questions, which could potentially cost a lot of money, before the finished product is manufactured for distribution. As Jakob Nielsen states:

"Current best practices call for spending about 10% of a design project's budget on usability. On average, this will more thandouble a website's desired quality metricsand slightly less than double an intranet's quality metrics. For software and physical products, the improvements are typically smaller - but still substantial - when you emphasize usability in the design process".

(If you are interested to learn more about user testing, take a look at our course
The Practical Guide to Usability)

The Usability Engineers Despair

Anyone involved in user testing is probably screaming a little inside, as they would ask why anyone needs to justify or fight the case for involving users in the process. After all, if they are the ones that will use a product or service, why would we ignore the benefits of hearing and seeing exactly how they behave, feel, and interact? This isn’t to say designers should become slaves to the users’ demands, but an awareness of their needs is essential, and there is no clearer insight to be gained than through testing and observation. 

Header Image: Author/Copyright holder: K2_UX. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image 1: geralt (Pixabay user)
Image 2: Behance User (Unknown)
Image 3:ICT (Germany)
Image 4: Nielsen/Norman Group

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