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Why User-Based Testing Is Important to Successful UX Tests

7 min read
Stacey Wonder

Written by Stacey Wonder

6 August, 2020

When website visitors come to your website, you have only up to eight seconds to influence them. That’s why investing in user experience (UX) is paramount to gain customer trust, increase conversions, and ensure user retention.

Yet, even the world’s best user experience designers can’t predict every possible user action and reaction. Designers make predictions of what they think works best based on their experience and expertise. But, how can they validate these predictions and reduce risks associated with bad user experiences? The answer is user-based testing.

To help you make sense of user-based testing, this article explains why user testing is important for conducting successful UX tests. After reading, you’ll discover everything you need to know about setting up user-based testing for user experience tests.

What Exactly is User-based Testing?

User-based testing refers to the testing method used in the design process to assess a product or particular UX feature with real users. User-based testing involves watching users working with your product so that you can make improvements based on how they perform.

User testing provides you with invaluable insights into how your users behave with your product. By observing how your audience behaves, you can create much more effective UX elements. After all, getting the data directly from your users is a much better way of doing UX design than guessing or arguing about features among your team.

Why User-Based Testing Is Important For Successful UX Tests

User testing allows you to put the real concepts in front of real users to see how well they can work with them. This method is widely used to identify frictions in UX design so that they can be addressed before being built or deployed.

By identifying possible UX challenges, you can address them early on and reduce costs in the long term. Besides, user-based testing offers other valuable benefits, including:

  • Cost efficiency. To be effective, user-based testing doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive or take place in a lab. Also, by knowing for sure which UX elements are the most effective, you can save development time and money.
  •  Accessibility. User-based testing can be done both in-person and remotely. As you’ll learn in the next section, there are different methods of user-based testing that include both remote and in-person options.
  • Flexibility. User-based testing can be implemented at any stage of the user experience design process. There’s no need to wait until you have a UX prototype to carry out user testing.
  • Customer perspective. User-based testing allows you to design UX elements concerning a unique customer perspective. There is nothing better than feedback from a real user to help you determine the best way forward.

5 User-based Testing Methods

User-based testing can be a valuable asset to the UX development process. A quick user-based test will tell whether you’re on the right track or not. To help you get started, this section explores five effective user-based testing methods you can implement to test your UX elements.

  1. Unmoderated remote testing

Unmoderated remote testing refers to a testing method that occurs remotely with no moderator involved. It’s a quick and inexpensive way to validate your UX elements.

Unmoderated remote testing participants are asked to complete tasks using their own devices with no moderator navigating the process. This allows you to create conditions similar to the real-life usage of a product.

Unmoderated remote testing is a great method to observe user behavior patterns.

  1. Contextual inquiry

Contextual inquiry is a testing method that allows you to obtain information about user experience directly from the real users. By asking participants a set of questions about their experience with your UX elements and observing them, you can better evaluate the performance of particular UX features.  

  1. Lab testing

As the name suggests, lab-based usability testing is typically conducted in special laboratories and supervised by moderators. A lab moderator is professional trained to facilitate participants through the experiment by providing instructions, answering organizational questions, and replying to feedback.

Lab usability testing should be used when you need to obtain detailed information on how users interact with UX elements in real-time. The results of lab usability testing will help you navigate the reasoning behind user behaviors.

Lab testing enables you to collect qualitative data that you can use to improve user experiences. Yet, this method has its limitations. Lab testing can be quite expensive as you have to hire research participants and a moderator. Also, with lab testing, you’ll typically only have 5-10 participants per research round, which means that the testing method lacks scalability.

  1. Session recording

Session recording is another remote testing method that can help you optimize UX testing. Session recording implies recording the actions of real but anonymized users. This method is helpful to understand which UX elements and features are the most clickable and interesting for users.

The main benefit of this method is its scalability. There is no limitation as to the number of research participants, so you can create a large database with various user behaviors.

  1. Card sorting

Poor information architecture can impact your costs, profitability, and user satisfaction. One way to address these issues is by testing information architecture. In fact, companies report that information architecture testing leads to less call center burden among other benefits.

If you’re looking to optimize the architecture of your UX elements, card storing is the best testing method you can employ.

The card sorting method is relatively simple compared to other testing methods. To implement the method, you need to place cards with concepts and ask participants to group the concepts into categories. As soon as participants are done sorting the cards, a moderator should ask them to explain the logic. This way, you can better understand customer logic and reasoning behind it. 

How to set up user testing for successful UX tests?

Now, as you’ve discovered different user-based testing methods, let’s learn which steps you need to take to set up user testing for UX.

  1. Creating a test plan

Any user-based testing starts with creating a test plan. This includes defining testing objectives and goals, as well as choosing the type of user-based method you will implement.

Testing objectives will vary depending on your product type and goals. Here are just a few examples of testing objectives to help you get started:

  • Success rate. Can your users successfully complete the task you’ve asked them to?
  • Error rate. How many users have encountered the same issue?
  • Flow efficiency. Can users easily navigate through particular elements?
  • Time to complete a task. How much time does it take for users to complete the action?

Regardless of your main objectives and goals, a test plan must be developed beforehand. User-based testing requires thorough research and preparation, so make sure to have a well-thought-out plan.

How frequently should you conduct user testing? Ideally, multiple user tests should be conducted throughout a UX project lifecycle. In fact, the sooner you perform user-based testing, the less work has to be redone later. It’s best to perform user-based testing on every UX project to ensure that all elements work are user-friendly.

  1. Recruiting participants

In order to get unbiased and usable results, participants must be representatives of your actual user base. Also, the test itself must be unbiased, meaning that participants’ actions cannot be specifically influenced to impact the results of testing. All sessions must be documented and recorded for analysis and future reviews.  

Make sure you have clear selection criteria for test participants for them to match your target user profile. To get unbiased results, choose participants that are not familiar with your product.

  1. Performing the actual test

After you’ve set your testing objectives, chosen a testing method, and recruited participants, it’s time to carry out the actual testing. To begin, create task scenarios for your participants to perform testing.

“Don’t create task scenarios that are too detailed,” suggests Tom Hayes, a UX designer at EssayTigers. “Tasks with too much guidance will ruin the purpose of testing elements, and you will get biased results. Instead, include just enough information so that participants can complete the journey intuitively.”

After you’ve designed tasks, the next step is to perform the actual test. This part is individual and based on the type of your product and the testing method you’ve chosen.

  1. Analyzing the results

After you’ve carried out the actual testing, the next step is analyzing the testing results and findings. Use this checklist to evaluate your testing results.

  • Organize your findings into categories.
  • Evaluate the results concerning the objectives you’ve set.
  • Draw conclusions (focus on both qualitative and quantitative results)
  • Prioritize issues based on their impact (critical, serious, and minor)
  • Compile a report with your results
  1. Use findings and recommendations to improve UX

The results of user testing must be examined by your UX team members. The role of your UX team is to come up with further recommendations based on the findings. This will help you make data-informed decisions rather than simply guessing which UX elements will perform better. 

Final Thoughts

The main advantage that distincts user-based testing from any other forms of testing is that you see the real user behaviors rather than asking for user opinions. Learning about users’ experiences directly from your users allows you to make more informed UX decisions.

Conducting user-based testing doesn’t have to be rocket science. It’s quite easy once you’ve defined your objectives, recruited participants, created your task scenarios, and chosen the testing method, you can start testing your UX elements.

Stacey Wonder

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