How we went from testing sporadically to testing on a regular basis, what we discovered, and how you can do it, too.

A while back, one of my colleagues approached me with an intriguing idea: user testing our apps on a regular basis. Since this can be time consuming, I was skeptical, plus I had been focused on fixing technical issues. At least that was my perspective. Maybe for you the challenge is finding time to think about solutions to your existing problems and then implementing them. However, this is only one piece of the puzzle.

Here’s a secret: your users don’t care about your project's history.

Why test regularly?

Clearer insight: No matter the extent of your skills, there’s always the risk of UX-related issues. The more time you spend on it, the likelier it is that you’ll miss something. It’s difficult to recall everything you’ve done on your project. This makes it difficult to see UX problems that new users are facing. You’ve become snow-blind to a whole series of problems that have been plaguing your app. Take a step back and bring in an outsider for a fresh perspective.

Clearer direction: Even though your app’s feature set and UX may have evolved incrementally, I bet some design choices you made can no longer be justified. It’s likely that you don’t see how some parts could be redesigned because you’re stuck seeing your app as its creator; knowing its long history. Here’s a secret: your users don’t care about the history. Formulate your test results, apply them, and keep moving forward.

Clearer communication: As a UX-er who does testing, do you need someone to help “make your case” when convincing the product owner or client that some changes need to be implemented? You can gain more trust from your customers and colleagues when your proposals are backed by a neutral third party.

Clearer tasks: Multitasking seems like a reasonable solution when you have a long to-do list, but you end up starting more tasks than you can finish. Performing regular one-hour user testing sessions allows you to focus on one task at a time during your scheduled session.  

Is one hour per project too much of an investment?

It sounds good. Perhaps you’ve already thought about it but just haven’t started. Taking the first step is crucial but it’s hard when other tasks are piling up. It can be difficult to manage your time and prioritize your tasks. As Mark Twain once said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

Maybe you’ve already started with formal or informal user testing. You know it’s useful, but why do it regularly? You review code, right? That’s an important part of the process, too, and how much time is spent on that? Is one hour per project too much of an investment? Clearly it isn't.

We found that scheduling regular user testing sessions for our projects wasn’t as time-consuming as we feared. It allows us to keep an up-to-date list of what could be improved while, at the same time, prompting us to act on our findings.


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How to test regularly?

There’s not one set way to test. No fancy equipment is needed, and it can be done by most anyone at your company. The main goal is to see how your app is being used so you can receive genuine feedback. If you start slowly, let’s say testing one or two apps every few weeks, you will see an impactful difference in your product and the way you test.

The less you need to intervene, the better.

Within the one-hour session you can test the whole app, a part of it, new features, or investigate potential UX issues.

This is what we do during our one-hour sessions:

For the first 30 minutes, we test the app with a new user. This “outsider’s perspective” gives us complete objectivity. The tester doesn’t have to be someone at your company. The goal is to let the tester explore the app on their own and test the aspects that you’re interested in, while you observe them and take notes.

There are three people involved in our sessions: one to moderate the test, one to take the test, and one to record notes. An additional tool that we’ve used for recording tests is the app Lookback (https://lookback.io/). It’s given us great user insights and has helped keep the test results organized.

The last 30 minutes are used to summarize our findings and briefly discuss what can be done to fix the issues we found. We focus on the parts that need our attention most. If a user gets stuck, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something was designed poorly, but it’s definitely a red flag. We like to highlight important points in our findings so we can revisit them later. That way, unless there’s a particular part we’re interested in, it’s not necessary to watch the entire recording a second time.

With these testing sessions, we want to discover as much as we can about how the user interacted with the product, what they liked, and where they struggled. The more test sessions you have, the better you’ll become at observing, identifying key takeaways, and allowing your test subjects to discover things in their own way. The less you need to intervene, the better.

It’s crucial to stick to the one-hour time limit. You want to make sure you’re not wasting resources unnecessarily. The time limit also helps prevent endless discussions about findings or the state of the UX and UI. Finding a solution is only half the battle; you need to learn how to properly identify potential issues first. Regular user testing allows for a fresh perspective, forces you to push for change, and improves the overall process of making apps.

Since we’ve started testing regularly, we’ve experienced significant results in every phase of our app creation process and I highly recommend you try it.

Happy testing!