Guerrilla User Testing

The rules of engagement and a battle plan to get you started

Guerrilla warfare: an independent group of paramilitary fighters using unconventional tactics to divide and conquer an often larger, more orthodox enemy.

Guerrilla marketing: a group of extremely savvy execs using unconventional tactics to divide you from your cash and conquer your custom. (Think: the zebra crossing painted to resemble a carton of McDonald’s fries or the part unwrapped KitKat bench.)

User Testing? It too, has gone guerrilla.

What is Guerrilla User Testing?

Guerrilla user testing, like its aforementioned counterparts, also employs unconventional tactics to achieve the desired result. The difference being that the ultimate goal is not to conquer your territory or to sell you a brand – it’s to see how a prototype performs out in the real world.

In a guerrilla testing session, user data is gathered from members of the public in coffee shops, train stations, libraries, in fact, almost anywhere that attracts high levels of public footfall. Guerrilla user testing is a popular method because it’s informal, fun, low cost and it yields quick results.

But don’t be fooled. Just because guerrilla user testing is an impromptu, cheap and seemingly carefree way to charter the user experience doesn’t mean it’s slapdash and unorganised or without its pitfalls – far from it. In fact, it takes an almost military level of precision and discipline to conduct any guerrilla user testing session that produces reliable and meaningful results.

So, before you go in all guns blazing, take a moment to consider how our winning tactics can lead you to user testing victory.

The Battle Plan:

● Select your Target

If you’re ready to test your prototype, then it’s probably fair to assume that you already have a pretty good idea of who your target audience is. If you’re prototyping an app that details the best student nights out, for example, it’s fairly obvious that students will be your target demographic… but there may be a few more things to consider than just pitching up at your closest University and asking for directions to the Student Union.

When selecting your target, consider not just who they are but:

Their time – your test subject’s time is valuable. Make sure tests are short and sweet and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to offer an incentive or a thank you gesture for taking part.
Their ability – remember that every user is unique and will interact with your prototype differently and make allowances for this when analysing your results.
Their autonomy – as important as it is to introduce your prototype and the aims of your testing session, it’s also important to know when to step back and allow the user to take control. After all, studying their uninterrupted interaction with your prototype is the ultimate aim of the exercise.

● The Element of Surprise

Once you have decided who you’re going to test, you’ll need to decide where you’re going to test, and again, it’s a little more complicated than just showing up unannounced at a coffee shop with free biscuits for your participants.

You need to consider if the location is suitable and by that, we mean asking questions like: Does it have a high footfall of your chosen demographic? Is there a stable Wi-Fi connection and plenty of places to charge your electronic equipment? Is the environment distracting i.e. too loud or too quiet?

You’ve selected your perfect test environment, you’re in the coffee shop and you’re onto a winner – it generates plenty of footfall, it isn’t too noisy or too quiet, has a speedy Wi-Fi connection and plenty of places to charge your devices… but have you considered the time?

Even in the best environment, you could still be fighting a losing battle depending on the time of day you choose to conduct your test. Have you ever tried standing in the way of a busy commuter, who at 08:55 is already 25 minutes late for their 08:30 meeting, without a single drop of double strength, triple filtered macchiato having touched their lips?
We wouldn’t recommend it.

The point being that you could be conducting your test in exactly the right environment, surrounded by exactly the right demographic but if your timing is wrong, any data you do manage to collect runs the risk of turning out significantly skewed by grumpy participants, completely scuppering your chances of victory!

● Know your Strategy … and stick to it!

Remembering your research aims is crucial to the success of your strategy. Perhaps you’re reviewing the ease of your sign-up process or you’ve designed a new shopping app and you want to see how easy it is to add products to your cart. The most effective way to keep track of your aims is to compile a checklist of items to test. Make sure to record the results faithfully in a way that will be easy to decipher at a later date. Whatever your purpose, referring back to this checklist frequently will help you to stay zeroed in on your research targets and guarantee winning results.

● Master the Debrief

Knowing how to deconstruct your test data after the session is also an important part of the guerrilla user testing process. You can write a report from scratch, fill out a template, or create a presentation, in fact, you can pretty much display your results in any way you choose. The key points to remember are that your debrief should include who was tested, where and when they were tested and why they were tested, detailing any usability problems by the level of severity – this will help your teams to identify the most prevalent issues with your prototype. A proper debriefing can also help identify any adaptations necessary for the testing session itself, so when it comes time to rally the troops for another round, you know they’re fighting with the best weapons in your arsenal.

Remember: Kickass winning attitude is a must; revolutionary ideas are a plus … the balaclava is optional.

Writer. All-round Creative. Dachshund Enthusiast

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