Minimum Viable Usability Testing

Written by: Julia Chen Julia Chen 

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Steve Blank’s order to get out of the building has become a mantra for founders and product teams alike. While we all know the importance of talking to users, sometimes we just need—or have the time and budget for—quick insights from a handful of people.

There are step-by-step guides out there for conducting thorough user tests. This is not one of them. Instead, this post will tell you how to get the feedback you need to take your product to the next step, regardless of what stage that is.

Here are 4 usability testing methods that are affordable and effective. 

Conduct Guerilla Usability Testing for Fast Feedback

Guerrilla testing consists of asking strangers in public places to test your product. It’s been described as “the art of pouncing on lone people…[and] filming them whilst they use a website for a couple of minutes.”

Guerilla usability tests work best for prototypes. It’s one of the fastest ways to get feedback. Since it’s live, you can see facial reactions and get real-time commentary as people talk through the product. In exchange for insights, you may offer to buy participants a coffee or gift card. 

The downsides are that it’s annoying and it’s not the most scientific way to collect insights. As UX researcher Laura Klein writes, “Getting 20 people at a random Starbucks to smile politely at you while you pitch them your idea does not constitute validation.” People may be friendly but quickly validate your idea so they can get back to their days. This method will also provide a pretty narrow viewpoint.

Use Mechanical Turk for Cost-Effective Scale

Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (mTurk) service hands over the work of recruiting participants to Amazon. To conduct live usability testing sessions, you can post an assignment describing the test and have dozens of people call you to give feedback. You can also use mTurk more like a market research platform and send out mass surveys.

amazon mechanical turk usability testing

The benefits of using mTurk are that it’s extremely cost-effective (people will take tasks for a few cents) and you can get through a lot of conversations if you have a good process in place. You can specify who you want to get feedback from (by describing your ideal persona in the posting), and you can do it from the comfort of your own home or office.

The cons of mTurk are that you don’t get face-to-face interaction, and you’d have to be more instructive in walking people over phone without being able to share a screen. Since mTurk workers earn more the faster they complete tasks, you may also get quick validation from people who just want to get off the phone. The experience can get pretty tedious quickly if you don't have the enthusiasm to strongly guide users through the process.

Host a Drunk User Testing Event for Community- Building

UX designer Richard Littauer popularized the drunk user test. It’s exactly what it sounds like: he gets very drunk and provides feedback about your website, through the lens of a new user and experienced designer.

While the idea may sound outlandish, the underlying philosophy is sound: your product should be so easy to use that a drunk person would be able to do it.

At Appcues, we took this idea and created an annual event out of it. We teamed up with Wistia and a few other local startups, to throw a massive party around getting user insights. Each startup had a booth for testing a new feature or a small part of their product, and attendees could spend the night testing to their hearts’ delight. Even though it was a fun and less structured environment, we still received actionable insights that we took back to our desks the next day.

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Image Source: The Boston Globe

We used drunk user testing to meet a lot of users and collaborate with other Boston-area startups, but you could do this on a much smaller scale as well.

Try Powerful Tools for Collecting User Insights

There are several user engagement tools that help you better understand your users. Some of our favorites are UserTesting, WhatUsersDo, and FullStory.

UserTesting and WhatUsersDo capture videos of your users as they complete tasks in your product and talk through their experience aloud. The services can benefit mature products and beta projects alike. The benefits of these tools are ease-of-use and control. You can specify exactly what you'd like feedback around, and you don’t have to worry about recruiting people and getting high-quality insights.

While not quite a traditional user testing service, FullStory acts like a DVR for your user sessions. That means that you can see exactly where individual users engaged with your product, and where they dropped off completely. You can also view data in aggregate to find meaningful trends. FullStory works best for more mature products.

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Customer Feedback Remains Most Essential

While most of these methods are great for collecting quick feedback on a dime, there’s no replacement for talking to customers. Loyal, happy customers are great candidates for testing beta features and can tell you how your product is being used in the real world. Churned customers can also provide valuable feedback about why your product failed to provide the value they wanted.  

Given all the ways you can get feedback on your product, there’s no excuse to build in a vacuum. Oftentimes, even as little as 5 usability tests can provide enormous value. Regardless of your time, budget, or stage of product development, getting essential user insights will help you improve your product and better understand the market you're serving. 

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