User testing and usability studies are as important on day one as they are when you have millions of users. When your internal resources are virtually non-existent, you still have a few great ways to understand your target audience and start testing how they’ll relate to your young idea.
1. Moderated User Testing
For those of you who have the capacity to conduct face-to-face user tests, lucky you — congrats! I currently work from my home office, so I conduct moderated user tests remotely. I rely on two tools for remote user tests to run smoothly. I use YouCanBook.Me for seamless scheduling and GoToMeeting for the actual testing. Being able to record each test session is critical and so is the ability to share screens and controls.
For all testing, consider the following tips:
- Remember to screen testers. Fight the urge to test anyone who is willing and able. You want to ensure that the insights you collect are relevant to your target user base. Decide on a few questions to ask that, if answered correctly, ensure this potential tester is the right fit.
- Begin with an introductory spiel on user testing. Most people won’t know what they’re getting into, so create a comfortable environment for them. Steve Krug’s usability script is a solid resource to adapt to your project. The best two points here are that there are no wrong answers and to think aloud as much as possible.
- Don’t use leading questions in your test script. Leading questions are the ultimate destructor. Resist putting your perspective anywhere near the test until it’s time to reflect and review. We’re looking to tap into the single perspective of this user. Some of my go-to non-leading questions are: What do you want to click first? Does this screen meet your expectations, why or why not? What about this screen is interesting or confusing? How easy/difficult was it for you to navigate around the app?
- Welcome the awkward silence. As a moderator it is your job to let the tester come to their own conclusions. Fight the urge to help them out and use the awkwardness you feel as a reminder that this is a good time to hone in your observations on what’s causing the silence.
- Actions speak louder than words. In the same vein as welcomed silence, when reviewing the test, pay more attention to actions and tone rather than what the tester literally says they like/dislike. Where did they spend most of their efforts? Was it out of delight or confusion? Where did they spend no/little effort? Does it need to be made more discoverable or is it un-adoptable in it’s current state? What content did they show interest in? Is that a strong lead as I continue to refine my value proposition? Etc, etc.
2. Remote Unmoderated User Testing
- Launch new tests one at a time. The types of things that are misunderstood during a test will be shocking to you. Protect yourself from tripping a user up and wasting time and money: test your tests. Launch a new test once to a single tester, review, and iterate for round two and beyond. You’ll get better with practice, but it’s important to start slow for each new script.
- Anchor your test with a good scenario. Recording session length is typically limited, so creating a pretend role for the tester prevents any wasted time. The tester immediately understands the appropriate mindset to adopt, enabling their user flow to be more realistic from the get-go.
- Explain what a “prototype” is. Take the time to explain what a prototype is (it’s not a real app), what limitations the tester will face because it (you won’t be able to complete forms, etc), and invite them to use their imagination (that scenario you gave them will help facilitate this).
- Create very specific instructions. If you have prior experience with user testing, you already know that people don’t really *read* websites and apps. The same is true for test instructions. When you want a user to proceed through a task in a particular way, break it down into very granular steps. Use good old fashion caps lock to draw their attention to an important note. This slow-release style ensures that testers stay on-task, lessening the temptation to go rogue.
3. Competitor Reviews
In your downtime when you’re not conducting moderated and unmoderated user tests, get to know your competitors. Their users are potentially your future users, so understanding them is important. My favorite way to get to know these users is by listening to what they say in their customer reviews. The App Store, Google Play, Chrome Web Store, etc will have guaranteed users who have submitted reviews. If you find those have a limited quantity, expand your research to places like Product Hunt and forums, but keep in mind the context of that feedback is unknown and should be taken more cautiously.
Below are some ways to make reading others’ reviews a beneficial practice:
- Identify the pain points. What are people complaining about? Painting the dissatisfaction picture will help you identify real problems that need solving. When you solve these problems, you’ll automatically come away with a clear value proposition to set you apart.
- Identify the positives. What about this app is working for the user? Understanding what gets them excited will help you understand their attitudes and behaviors. Knowing users in this way will help to create an end-to-end experience that they can naturally relate to.
- Keep in mind the time of review. Some users review the day they download the app. Some users make multiple reviews during their lifecycle. Most reviews are prompted by the service itself. Download the app and note when you are prompted to review. Expect that the majority of the reviews are from around this time unless otherwise noted and use your judgement to decide if you are able to trust that level of experience.
4. Competitor Support Pages
A final place to gain quick insights are competitor support portals. There are a few things you can glean here. Whether they have the most up votes or are simply prioritized over other content, note the important articles. You’re looking for shortcomings within the service that you can improve upon. How is the issue being framed? Can it be made more clear? Is this proof that feature X is inherently unintuitive? Is there a way the need for this article could be made obsolete?
Having a thorough understanding of your ideal range of users will lead you towards the kind of empathetic problem solving that has the power to convert early and often.