There’s nothing like watching a total stranger attempt to use your product to induce shock and awe in developers! I know. I’ve seen it. Over a decade ago my friend Giuseppe Taibi and I developed one of the first mobile shopping apps, called oddly enough, iShop.
Somehow, through means I don’t recall, I found a Bentley College student who was working on UI projects and had access to the Bentley User Experience Center. She set up a testing session for us with a number of Bentley students who didn’t know us and we didn’t know them. This is very important in usability testing: too many entrepreneurs rely on colleagues, friends, friends of friends, family, and acquaintances to get feedback on their product. You must use total strangers to eliminate bias.
The second important aspect of usability testing is to give the testers a set of tasks to accomplish.
The third and most important thing is to watch your testers attempt to use your product to accomplish those tasks!
Careful observation behind one-way glass, along with recording the usage sessions is vital. It’s the best way to learn how well your UI works, where users gets lost, confused, frustrated or even, on occasion, pleased.
It’s also vital to have a facilitator from the lab – no one from the company should do any more than observe and take notes. Again, the goal is to eliminate bias.
One of the big problems with doing market research through asking customers what they want or how they like your product is that most people a) don’t know what they want until they see it, as Steve Jobs told Business Week : “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” and b) what people say and what they do often tend to vary dramatically. Watching what they do with your product is the best way to learn about the user experience. And that’s what you’re selling, right?
As Henry Ford said, “Ask people what they want and they’ll tell you they want a faster horse.” But show them a car and they’ll quickly forget about horses altogether, and there goes the buggy whip industry!
There are a number of UI experts who specialize in running usability tests. I highly recommend you seek one of them out and get their help in designing your usability tests – and I do mean plural, because repeating usability testing during development can keep you on track in developing a product experience that satisfies and delights your customer. Contact me for names if you like.