Usability testing on a budget

Usability | June 2017

usability testing session

Delivering user research benefits: a smart approach

Swetha Sethu Jones, Principal UX Consultant, elaborates on ‘Bootstrap UX’, and her talk on Smart Usability Testing at the HCID 2017 event.

swetha sethu jonesThis year’s HCID event was held at City University of London, where I shared the stage with a client, Georgina Cox of Kingston University. Georgina and I gave a talk titled, ‘Smart usability testing on a budget’. This tied-in neatly with the event’s central theme of ‘Bootstrap UX’, which explored how to achieve UX improvements – without access to a big team, or expensive kit.

Making usability testing more flexible and cost effective

team gets involved with usability researchAs businesses recognise the value of user research insights, more and more teams want to integrate regular user research and usability testing into their design process. Yet often they don’t have the time or budget for a fully-fledged usability testing programme. In our talk, ‘Smart Usability Testing on a Budget’, Georgina and I demonstrated that you can create viable alternative approaches, even when resources are limited.

We highlighted the potential for quick and collaborative approaches to user research, and for project teams to engage directly in it, to deliver maximum value. To demonstrate how effective such smart approaches are in practice, we presented a case study on rapid usability testing recently undertaken for Kingston University.

Core principles for smart usability testing

At System Concepts we have several core principles that underpin our smart usability testing approach, among other tailored approaches. These principles are born of our experience working with numerous client teams, and widely diverse requirements:

1. Explore a suitable method for your product and your team

For example, 1 day of user research sessions per sprint cycle would be one way to integrate research into the design process. Or if you want to conduct contextual research on a low budget, consider how you could adopt guerilla research techniques.

2. Involve your team in the research

It’s vital to get your team engaged and involved, so they will understand research findings and get maximum value from the insights. Involving your team and stakeholders in research also helps build stronger stakeholder relationships and aids buy-in to a user centred design process, especially if they are not familiar with or do not fully understand the value.

3. Provide quick insights

Wherever possible, save time by finding efficient ways to clearly communicate user research insights, rather than spending time on a lengthy report. This is where getting the team involved in watching the sessions and discussing their learnings really helps!

4. As always, start recruitment early

Clearly defining who your users are, and knowing where to recruit them from, can save time and effort.

HCID 2017 – an interactive and fun conference

HCID 2017 featured a great line-up of speakers covering a diverse range of interesting topics. While our talk and case study presentation focused on website usability testing in a lab-based setting, this doesn’t mean that budget user research is restricted to just lab-based testing of websites and apps.

You can adopt the core principles above when conducting research for any type of product, across any platform. Depending on the context of use, you can find the most cost-effective ways of conducting user research (e.g. paper-based tangible prototypes, in-field contextual research, etc). The importance of considering a product’s context of use when conducting research was further illustrated in two other conference talks:

  1. In ‘Designing products for tomorrow’, Brendan Kearns discussed how when doing initial concept testing it is still possible to get useful feedback, by giving participants a relatable form of the product, to get natural insights based on their context of use. For example, if you are looking to gather feedback on a smart watch concept, then it would be better to give the participant something tangible (even if made of paper) to strap around their wrist, rather than just telling/showing them a small screen (which is testing the product outside of its intended context).
  2. Similarly, in ‘Research strategies for a user-centred approach to augmented reality‘, Anna Moutinho emphasized the importance of user testing in context for augmented reality (AR) products – this was because AR is more about fulfilling user needs in relation to their context and environment, thus becoming a core part of the user’s experience and interaction.

Usability testing on a budget is a mindset, not a method

User research doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s most useful when it’s embedded in iterative doses as part of the design and development process.

It’s easy to think of budget UX as a specific package that you can subscribe to. But the important takeaway is that one size doesn’t fit all. In order to find a suitable research approach that meets your needs, you need to first identify your research objectives, understand how the outcome of the research will feed into the design process, and recognise your budget or time constraints.