User testing. Perhaps not the sexiest part of the web design process – sitting in a dark room with a startled volunteer and a questionnaire – doesn't on the face of it appear to be the most wonderful thing to bother a client with. But as we UXers know, among the questions, tasks and the not-to-be-deviated-from script, lies gold.
User tests open a door onto the wild, where our carefully coddled design will be released sometime soon. The wild is unpredictable, even to the most seasoned designer or astute business brain. Being able to assimilate the thought processes of a site’s visitors can only make the product better. Designs can only improve with testing and clients, who are usually more interested in empirical evidence than design theory get a product with greater utility and efficiency.
Proper user testing (together with other UX research methods) makes Visual Design much more straightforward because it reduces the grey areas. The potential for uncertainty as to whether one approach is better than another, is informed in as genuine a way as possible. I love the process of proving and disproving design decisions. The gradual removal of uncertainty. Replaced with the sure knowledge that my decisions are well-founded with as full a picture of user behaviour as I can gather – at least until the next test/iteration cycle.
Sometimes User Tests are carried out by a dedicated UX researcher, or by a UX designer, with the UI designer, Interaction Designer or Product Designer – depending on the size of the team – observing remotely, either on a live feed to another room, or recorded on video. Either way, it’s worth making friends with whoever does the research. Getting to sit in, or running a user testing in person is great experience. If you’re a freelance and you invest the time in properly conducting research before diving into design, kudos to you. But why encourage a client to look under the bonnet with you?
The depth of client involvement depends on your client and their business. They may not have time to drop in when testing is happening, or you might be getting your testing done remotely. But with the right client the benefits of hands on involvement, such as creating tasks and questions for the testers can be highly valuable. It can be a great opportunity to work with a client to fine tune the user testing procedure together.
One reason for this value is the invaluable mine of expertise clients bring. They know their businesses inside-out and often a great deal about business in general. So bringing a client on a User-Test ride-along can generate insight that they can feed back to you. The process reduces their sense of risk. The risk inherent in investing in a product that they need to be successful can only be reduced by assessing what’s working, what isn’t and how to improve it. It’s good for you, because your client will see you engaging in a testing methodology of rigour, and it’s good for your client because they will see how key UI/UX decisions are reached and this will increase their trust in you, and the product.