User-Testing Everything With Everyone

November 23, 2016

The amount of time it takes to prototype and user-test has decreased dramatically in the last several years, which means it’s become an essential part of every interactive design project we tackle. Everything from full-scale web applications to smaller campaign-focused microsites — and even the oft-lamented email campaign or banner ad — can be put through an up-front prototyping process and tested for usability. It’s a small time investment that can give you solid proof-of-concept to point to before delivering the final product, and helps avoid expensive iteration and changes.

Making well-informed, thoroughly processed and vetted design decisions often puts designers and strategists at odds, due to varied insight and perspective, as well as varied backgrounds and expertise. Try to imagine a situation in which you’ve spent a good amount of time creating static wireframes for an interface, only to have the client completely remove important elements that you’ve deemed essential for a good user experience. After making the adjustments — pushing through launch and watching this client experience the interface in action — they come back and request that those elements be added back in. You would happily oblige this request and then circle back around to discuss how this situation could be avoided in the future.

How can you avoid this scenario? How can you achieve buy-in from everyone on your team, the client and users, at the outset of the project? There are plenty of ways, from the project management and client-relationship perspective, but I want to highlight two methods that apply to the design and development teams.

One approach involves prototyping various options. If you can demonstrate the advantages of two alternatives prior to design and development, it will help everyone understand the process and will allow the designers to do their work with more confidence. With this minor time investment up-front, it could save everyone a lot of time later in the process.

The other method is semi-formal user testing that involves everyone on the team. It’s becoming increasing clear that testing within a vacuum results in designers and developers merely interpreting feedback rather than hearing it from the source. If you can do a round of user testing internally with the entire creative team and account team sitting in the room listening to the user discuss their experience, followed by a group discussion and analysis, everyone will have the same first-hand experience with the user during testing. This will minimize subjective interpretation of feedback.

If you can integrate both of these tasks into your design and development process, you will minimize the amount of revisions and increase the shared understanding of functionality prior to developing the interface. It may seem silly on simple or small projects, but this can even be used for copywriting! Put your ideas in front of users as soon as possible and create tasks for them to accomplish that test your design choices.