Customer Experience

6 Tips to Make User Testing a Breeze

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Congratulations! Your boss has green-lighted your user testing initiative. You are now armed with the time, budget, and resources to get the feedback you need to improve your product.

But where do you begin?

The idea of getting your product ripped apart by users in real time can seem overwhelming—but in reality—it's not that scary of a process. Promise.

We put together 6 quick tips to make sure your first user test is anxiety-free—and a resounding success.

1. Define your test

First things first: How do you figure out what to ask?

Start by taking note of what questions your team is currently trying to answer. 

Are you looking to improve onboarding? Rachel Decker, Senior User Researcher at ezCater said, “If you’re designing an onboarding flow, you have a goal: get the user to complete (at least) one meaningful task in your product. For Twitter, this may be following people the user admires, while for Duolingo this may mean starting your first Spanish lesson.”

Or you might be trying to increase the usage of a new feature. Or maybe you’re wondering how users are feeling about a particular change in your UI. There’s no right or wrong answer, but it is important to prioritize the problem you want to dig into with this test.

For your first user test, try limiting your focus to one question or area of your product. Then, brush off those rusty science fair skills and develop a hypothesis and a few predictions. A quick refresher: Good predictions have two parts—an independent variable (something you change) and a dependent variable (something you observe or measure).

2. Keep it simple

Don't overthink it. Seriously.

Each user test should be less than 5 minutes, and you might only need about 5 tests to get to the maximum benefit-cost ratio.

We call it minimum viable user testing, and it’ll save you time, money, and headaches.

A woman is recorded while testing a product on a laptop
Wistia tests their product during Drunk User Testing in Boston.

3. Practice makes perfect

A few days before your first user test, run through it with teammates to ensure everything will run smoothly. Have a teammate pretend to be the user and set a timer to see how long it takes to complete the test. 

Less than 5 minutes? You’re ready to go. 

More than 5 minutes? Do not pass Go—try cutting it down to a more singular focus.

It’s also a good idea to write a script for you to say before the test begins to give your users the proper context. 

Try including in the script:

  • An introduction about yourself and your product
  • Information about what they are going to test
  • How long the test will take
  • A reminder that you are testing the product, not their performance
  • Permission to record video/audio feedback

4. Listen up

The majority of the work in user testing is actually in listening. Ask open-ended questions and make sure you have a reliable method of recording feedback.

Begin by getting some personal insight about your user’s life. Our Head of Product Design—Tristan—said in an interview with User Interviews that the biggest mistake in user testing is not forming a good connection or building enough empathy from the start.

He said, “That part of an interview where you talk about the user’s background and experience and job or whatever profile fields you want to capture — it’s a huge opportunity. You can gain empathy and context, guide what you ask in the future and how you ask it, and build a rapport so the rest of the interview is multiplied. I think a relaxed, happy person who knows you have their back and aren’t judging them will get so much deeper on any topic. Make an honest human connection with the person on the other end, and set it up so it’s all but guaranteed that you get truth and honesty just oozing out of the conversation. In my experience, that happens more often when I achieve a good connection early on. It’s not easy, but it’s worth shooting for.”

A man tests a product on a computer while a user researcher looks on
Klaviyo tests their product at Drunk User Testing in Boston.

5. Share your insights

Once your user test is over, make sure to bring the information back to your team.

Rachel Decker, Senior User Researcher at ezCater said, “You don’t need a lengthy write up on the findings. Just get your team to agree on what the most important takeaways were, document them, and decide on next steps together.”

Try disseminating your newfound insights by:

  • Hosting a lunch-and-learn with your team
  • Creating an article in your internal documentation
  • Sending out an email to your team or company
  • Kicking dedicated Slack channel for ongoing feedback with your initial learnings

6. Get another one on the books, ASAP

Test early and often. 

In that interview with User Interviews, Tristan also said, “The biggest thing I wish I had been told when getting started would be, just to talk to as many users as you can. Just do it.™ You can learn all the little tips along the way, but nothing takes the place of experience and practice. Drop all your fears and schedule 5 calls this week and just do your best, get feedback, mess up a lot, and try it all again next week.”

The best part of user testing is that you build empathy for your user, which in turn builds momentum in the team. It’s a quick way to build alignment on where you’re sprinting. So, make it a habit for yourself and your team by scheduling user tests on a recurring basis.

An image of a crowd overlayed with the words 'Drunk User Testing'

Ready to start testing?

Come join us at Drunk User Testing in San Francisco!

We’re bringing our Boston-born event to SF on March 15 for a night of fun and feedback. We have a few slots left for companies to test their products with 250+ drunk and candid users. 

Interested in testing your product? Email laura@appcues.com.

And if you want to attend as a 'drunk user' instead, buy a ticket here. Teetotalers welcome, too!

[Editor’s note: Psst… Use code ‘MARGARET’ for even cheaper tickets.]

Margaret Kelsey is a content marketer at Appcues. Before Appcues, she built content programs for InVision’s design community for 3.5 years and has roots in painting and PR. She’s a big fan of puns, Blackbird Donuts, and Oxford commas—probably in that order.

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