Why you should be user-testing...now.

If you are developing a new product, chances are you want to wait to show it to anyone to critique until you have it mostly in place.

Why? You have a great vision as to where the product is going and you want them to see the final realized product before making any judgments.  Cooks don’t pass along half-cooked meals to try…why should you with your creation?

Well actually, cooks do put menu items they are working on in front of real people all the time:  they become “daily” or “seasonal specials”.  If the special does poorly, it’s back to the drawing board; if the special does great — it finds its way onto the permanent menu.

The reality is, you as an expert in your field suffer from what the Heath brothers call the Curse of Knowledge.  When you are building out a product, you spend almost every waking hour thinking about the nuances of how it will work.  You live it, dream it, breathe it.  That’s awesome and super-important.  BUT… you have now spent so much time thinking about a product that it is impossible for you to see it through the eyes of someone who has never experienced it.

When a user tries your service for the first time, they won’t know all of the things that seem completely obvious in your head.   They are just trying to understand your great idea for the first time.

Enter user-testing.   Every time you are releasing a new feature, put it in front of users in your target audience who you have never asked…. Constant user-testing will allow you to find problems earlier than expected and figure out solutions to those problems that you might not have come up with on your own.

Do a few user tests and you’ll be surprised.  Sometimes very surprised.  You’ll end up building a much better product for it.  But to really succeed, you should be doing that (and AB testing) all the time.

So, how do you get started?

You don’t need a big firm to get results.  Basic or what I call “scrappy” user testing will get you pretty far and is pretty inexpensive and easy to do.

1) If you don’t own it already, buy Rocket Surgery Made Easy.  It’s a great overview of user-testing with great instructions and many more reasons why you should do it.  It’s a super quick read and provides a great guideline/framework.

2) Then get a pipeline of users in place.  So how will you get people?  Just ask.   Email a variety of current / prospective users.  If you are just getting off the ground, use your networks.  Ask your friends for their friends.  Post on Facebook and LinkedIn.  Ask people in your building.   You’ll be surprised.   Most people who would be your customers would get excited about being able to test things before anyone else and to have their feedback matter.  It’s worth much more to them than any other compensation.

3) Figure out things you can test now.  If you just have a mockup, you can test it by showing it to people and asking what stands out, what they think different sections would do and how they would perform a task.   If you have a half-working product –that’s ok too.  Just to set expectations appropriately:  You are not trying to figure out if they will love or even use your product  (it’s really hard to get accurate answers to this user-testing).  Instead, you want to know — where are they confused?  What makes sense and what doesn’t?     What do they see and what do they completely ignore?

4) Schedule all of your user testers to start on the same day. It will allow you to get all of your materials together and you won’t put too much emphasis on one person’s opinion. Later,  you can start setting a weekly schedule or bi-weekly user-testing day so you can build it into a habit (At Shop It To Me, we do ours on Wednesdays).

5) Make it accessible to everyone on your team and encourage them to watch it.  We use skype screen sharing as well as Silverback for recording.  We also transcribe the session into Google Docs for people who want a quick read (this does introduce some author/transcriber biases, but in the end we feel it is better than not having it).

6) Then just do it.  It will be eye opening.   Trust me.

Even if you aren’t building out a product, get a feel of what it is like by participating in a user-testing session.  As I said above, we generally user-test at Shop It To Me on Wednesdays.  So if you ever want to user-test our new products and see what it’s all about, just send me a line!  We’d love to have you!