The Importance of User Testing / by Gavin Lau

Earlier this month, Icons8 Magazine published a story from the dark side of design. A tale of colossal failure (their words) after they decided to redesign one of their services and lost 47% of its users in the process. The article goes into detail about how Icons8 developed and promoted their ‘Request Icon’ feature; the intended goal was to replace an old design, making it simpler and more modern, while continuing to drive conversions. However, after the redesign, the company found that almost 50% fewer users were requesting icons even though their overall website traffic remained the same. 

The moral of the story? If you don’t first test a new or updated design on your users, you cannot predict its success. Although it retrospectively made for a great learning experience for Icons8, here’s what you need to know in order to avoid a bittersweet design failure story of your own.


Why Should I Run Usability Testing?

As Icons8 have demonstrated, gaining an understanding of how people use your product is vital if you want to achieve high user satisfaction. This is where you should turn to User (or Usability) Testing – the process of both talking and listening to your users, while watching them interact with your product. The insights this provides not only allows you to design and create a product that your users really want, but also enables you to stay one step ahead of your competitors. Or, as ThinkApps puts it, “If your product helps people achieve their goal, they will love it, they will continue to use it, and they will recommend it to others. So, you need to know how they use it. And that’s where user testing comes in.”


Ok, But How Do I Get Started?

Make user testing a priority: Convincing stakeholders or project owners may be your first hurdle, but try not to sell usability testing as something that’s optional. It’s best to try and focus on the objective, not the procedure, and integrate the tests into your design process. You can always test prototypes, it doesn’t have to be the polished, full-featured design. For example, if you’re wondering if something looks clickable, a flat Photoshop mock-up will do. This way, things can be easily altered without adding unnecessary stress in the final stages.

Consult other professionals: A Pluralistic Walkthrough is a usability inspection method where a group of professionals walk through a scenario and discuss any usability issues associated with each step. A good thing about this method is that it can be used during the early design stages, enabling the quick resolution of any issues. Plus having multiple types of participants, often with different skillsets, means a greater number of problems can be detected in one go.

However, if your budget doesn’t allow for assembling a group of experts in a room for an hour, tools like InVision are extremely useful for uploading your designs or sketches. These can then be shared internally and your colleagues can add any critiques or feedback in the form of comments left directly on the designs. 

Use your existing audience: Experiment by phasing new elements of your design into your existing site and track the response with heat mapping tools. These programs can offer insights like where people click, how far they scroll, and whether they follow the intended journey map. Feedback buttons and surveys are also a key way to gauge your current user’s reaction to a change in design – here at Usabilla, it’s safe to say we know a few things about those!

A/B testing is a useful tool for comparing two different versions of a design in order to see which performs better. A benefit of A/B testing is the ability to roll the variants out to limited or specific users, meaning you can wait until you’ve accumulated results before all of your visitors see the change.

Ask the public: Hallway Usability Testing is a free and simple way to test out new concepts. Of course, you don’t need to literally grab people from the hallway, just head to a place where groups of people tend to hang out – it could be a Starbucks or a train platform. Simply ask passersby to interact with your product and listen to their feedback, and if people are reluctant to participate, don’t underestimate the power of free snacks. 


As A List Apart explains, “best practices and common sense will get you only so far”. When it comes to rolling out updated designs or new features, the best feedback you can get is from the people who will be using them. Usability testing not only improves the quality of your work, but it also improves the communication within teams and with stakeholders.

Your users are one of your most valuable resources, be sure to take advantage of that.