Rapid User Testing and Lean UX

Usability | March 2016

Lean UX, a term coined by Jeff Gothelf, is a concept that has received a lot of buzz recently.  When our clients need to get their products to market quickly we encourage them (and have been doing for years!) to practise what we call rapid user testing, an integral part of the lean UX process.

Lean UX strips down the design process to focus on the end result, the user experience.  The lean UX process shown below uses short, iterative, low-fidelity cycles.  Concepts are quickly turned into a rough prototype, which is discussed and agreed within the project team.  The prototype is tested with users (using rapid user testing) and feedback is used to create the next iteration.  With each iteration, the design and prototype evolve, until they closely resemble the finished product.

Lean UXThe lean UX process

With user feedback having the potential to make or break the project, rapid user testing is integral to the lean UX process.

Rapid user testing:

  • Uses a smaller sample of participants than traditional user testing.  Between four to six participants are recruited to a specific screener and attend one to one in-depth interviews and user testing sessions.  Despite the smaller sample size, the feedback is still rich and according to Jakob Nielsen, using five participants will identify most major issues in the user experience.
  • Usually only takes one day.
  • Reports findings quickly, either directly after testing or the next day in a workshop or presentation – no long reports which often don’t get used anyway.
  • Is low cost.  Due to the smaller sample size and quick turnaround, costs are significantly lower than those associated with traditional user testing- in the current economic climate, even teams with small budgets can afford to do user testing.
  • Has a quick overall turnaround.  The time taken to conduct a rapid user test (organise it, conduct the in-depth sessions and deliver the findings) is short, freeing up time for the project team to focus on other pressing matters.

Clearly there is a business case for using rapid user testing, but sometimes designers and project teams are concerned about putting an unfinished product in front of users.  However, this is the point of rapid user testing, early designs can be validated quickly and if users don’t like them, they can easily be changed without wasting effort.

From our experience, rapid user tests have been particularly useful for:

  • testing ideas quickly
  • validating concepts and initial designs
  • investigating ideas at an early stage
  • providing new insights
  • highlighting areas that may require further research
  • settling internal disputes quickly
  • preventing project teams from heading down the wrong path
  • informing the next steps of the design and direction of the project.

The take home message: 

To keep up with the fast-pace of technological development, the design process needs to happen faster.  To aid this, user testing needs to happen faster, while still producing high quality user feedback.  This is the role of rapid user testing.  Despite the small sample size, rapid user testing, if done right, can give project teams the direction they need to pursue or discard a design- it is that powerful!

cta-imageIf you’re interested in learning more about lean UX, have a look at this article or contact us to discuss how we can help you with rapid user testing.

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