Testing designs with humans

Ross Chapman
Ross Chapman
Product Design Lead 6 Feb 20189 minutes read

Tips and tricks on how to get started

"You’re not a user experience designer if…you don’t talk to users."

Whitney Hess


When I started learning about user experience design, it was the usability testing that instantly drew me to it. No longer was the designer a magician who could miraculously deliver designs that were successful from launch. No, there was a science to it. Creating designs for people successfully now meant that designers needed to involve the user in the process in order to understand their behaviour.

Years ago it was hard to explain this to our partners. They had the assumption that only they would sign-off everything — they were footing the bill after-all!

Thankfully, the importance of UX grew and businesses grew wise to it. They started admitting that they didn’t know everything and actually their whole business was in the service of other people.

Why should businesses test with humans?

Applying UX up front saves money further down the line. Whether that be reduced operating costs in fewer support requests, increased sales by reducing friction to buy, but moreover — the reason to test for businesses is to get the maximum amount of value out of investing in UX.

It also reduces risk. Knowing whether your potential customers will want and use your new idea (and as you intend) before you release it to the world is invaluable. Isn’t it better to know after four days that your idea sucks, rather than four months?

Creating a prototype and testing it with the right people will also increase confidence that you’re building the right thing before investing in development.

There’s a lot of evidence online about why testing with people is vital. Here are a few related links:

That’s great Ross, but how do you run them?

I’m assuming that you have something to test out. That could be:

You’re allowed to do a bit of smoke-and-mirrors too. You shouldn’t be creating the product and then testing it because then you’ve spent all the budget only to find out at the end that the design might suck and people are getting confused (potentially).

It’s much better to do something small, test it with real people and iterate. Creating this feedback loop is something Jeff Gothelf talks a lot about in his book Sense and Respond. You need to create a two-way conversation between yourself and users and ask the right questions. Do you know what you are really testing? Some ideas:

The methods of running the test

There are many ways of running a test and often you’ll decide within the constraints of time, budget and the quality of the feedback you need:

There are pros and cons to all. Guerrilla testing with co-workers is easy but doesn’t give you that necessary outside view. Remote with general-interest folk is also easy to setup, but are they fully engaged?

From that list, the last three options are ones we typically go for.

Regardless of the type of test you are doing, try to keep these tips in mind:

Recruiting participants

Depending on the type of test you use, you’ll go about finding participants differently. When using What Users Do or, they sort all that out for you (just bear in mind that it’s a general audience).

In most cases, our partners will help find participants. Some even have ‘customer panels’. Again, be wary that they won’t people-please.

We have found that social media is a valuable resource when recruiting participants for user tests. Both Facebook Ads and even just sending out a tweet are effective methods of finding humans to test your product.

There are recruitment companies that specialise in finding participants too, if you need further help.

The things others won’t tell you

We’ve done testing for a number of years and have found that while it is a manual process, it is a repeatable one. Here are some of the things we’ve learned over the years:

Here at Etch, we have learnt a lot about testing with humans, and we strive to continue that learning. These simple insights and considerations are a collection of lessons we have learnt to help a user test run smoothly.

Remember, test small and often. Above all don’t stop learning!