In this opinion piece, Matias Bezzo (pictured below), a senior designer at Engaging.io, discusses the importance of user testing and why clients often refuse to do it.
The importance of businesses ensuring users of their products or services are provided with an outstanding experience is well-known. Whether it’s a website, app, software or new technology, companies make significant investments to deliver a quality user experience. But despite spending thousands on designing and building, many clients are still reluctant to pay for user testing which can have disastrous consequences.
User testing refers to a technique used in the design process to evaluate a product, feature or prototype with the people who will actually be using them. The main reason for user testing is to identify issues in a product and address them before it is built and deployed. Identifying issues early on in the design process can save time and money down the track, and it should ideally be performed for every project.
UX designers try to foresee possible user interactions and design with best usability practices in mind, but can only make assumptions about what real users might do. Even the best designers will be surprised by a totally unexpected user action and reaction. Assumptions need to be validated through user testing to reduce risk and ensure project success.
Despite the absolute necessity for user testing as part of the design methodology, there is still resistance from clients to pay for this vital testing.
Can the client afford to have a whole project fail? A client I recently worked with is a prime example of the dangers in skipping user testing. They invested $100,000 on the build of a product and chose to forgo user testing despite advice to the contrary. Six months down the track and the product has had almost no engagement, and has been subsequently taken offline. User testing could have identified issues early on, given visibility to critical flaws in the product, and allowed the client to identify a new direction for the product when it was shown there was little interest from the market.
User testing doesn’t need to be expensive and can be done in as little as a day with just a small group of users. Even a small test group would have given enough feedback to help save this project, but the client was adamant, to its cost, that they didn’t want to pay for it.
Tight deadlines and a focus on meeting project milestones are an unfortunate reason for excluding user testing. When meeting deadlines is the first priority, scrapping user testing seems justified. Clients can be too focused on keeping to a project timeline that was set before any learnings have taken place.
But user testing should be viewed as saving time. Finding out issues with a product early on, and not having to rebuild or reposition it at a later stage will save considerable time and money over the length of the project.
Head in the sand
Another reason why some clients don’t want to user test is that potential feedback on its value and function may not fit with the desire or intentions of the senior management team. Clients have generally invested a lot of time and energy into their products, and honest feedback that they might not work can be difficult to take.
We know what users want
Assuming you know what users want is fraught with danger. We are not our users, even if we think we are. User testing will always reveal something new that will make the product better by testing risky assumptions. Testing is a process of discovery and unearthing insights about how users think, act and feel when engaging with a product – often critical things that will make a product a richer experience.
UX designers are biased
Yes, we are experts, and yes, we are better positioned to make assumptions about how a user will interact with a product, but these are still assumptions no matter how much experience we bring. UX designers also have certain biases that will affect the way they test the product.
For example, we have prior knowledge about the objectives of the product and have played a role in the design of the product and know what it’s meant to do. A real user has no prior knowledge of what the product does and will give an accurate reflection of a real-world application.
Designers can do their best to try and think how a user would interact with the product, but they will always be still making assumptions. Real users ensure unbiased feedback.
User testing is a major tool in the designer and client toolkit. It helps to answer the big questions quickly and it’s the best way to test assumptions and learn. While some clients will never be convinced of the excellent return on investment user testing can have on the end product, design agencies should insist it be included in the scope of work and costs built in to any project. Ultimately, the client and its consumers will benefit in the long run.