Why Usability Testing Matters: A Newbie’s Perspective

Discussing user feedback

As a designer, I’m a perfectionist. I enjoy solving problems, analyzing human intuition, and testing all the available research tools to turn ideas into something viable and realistically executable.

This heuristic, analytical approach to design was what shifted me from advertising into software in the first place. I enjoyed leading creative teams, driving process innovation, managing campaigns, and sharing with and learning from other designers. But ultimately, I didn’t find designing for advertising rewarding. There was something big missing: the dialogue that occurs when the customer interacts and reacts to the work I put in front of them.

Working in software, I can test my ideas and get honest feedback — on the spot. Nothing gets closer to the truth. The perfectionist inside me isn’t satisfied until I’ve created something that makes an impact, that actually helps a person (even in some minor way).

User Testing as Validation – The Best Way to Build Confidence

Designers are validation junkies. It’s our reward in software making. And believe me, getting on site and testing designs with real users is 100% pure, undistilled validation. Luckily, the agile approach at Atomic enables designers to get in front of real users, early and often.

When the client asks you, “How do you know it will work?” the simplest answer is to hold usability testing with real users. If the tests are constructive and facilitated well, they will tell you if the design meets or exceeds the user’s expectations. Every time I run through a test, I am astounded at how each person provides new insight. Even the quieter types don’t hesitate to be direct. There’s the validation — take full advantage of getting answers on the spot to aid the improvement of the product.

We encourage clients to participate in these sessions, to see first-hand the value in how this new product idea addresses their needs. Usability testing not only builds confidence in us as a team of makers, it also shows the client they partnered with the right team and have a real, viable product to look forward to releasing to their customers.

It’s all about the ride, not the destination.

I see the software interface as a means to an end. The user has a task, a goal their headed for. The software interface should not create barriers on the path. Instead, it should intuitively simplify the task — creating a smooth, open road with some great scenery along the way. If it’s a really enjoyable ride, the user will want to experience it again.

In the past month, I have conducted 3 on-site usability testing engagements. Our objective was to “test-drive” the user experience and interface that we designed against the original project scope. We wanted to know:

  • Did it meet the client’s goals?
  • Did it alleviate any constraints for the user?
  • Did the level of intuition exceed the user’s expectation?
  • Did we create something that maintained the integrity of the client’s brand?

After the final planned engagement, we validated that this product idea will work and be adopted by end users. Yes, there are still some remaining client concerns. Right now those final doubts won’t be relieved entirely. But remember, there’s another chance to get in front of users with the beta release!

Over the past three months — since I’ve been at Atomic Object — I’ve dramatically shifted my approach of process-driven design into something much more aligned with test-driven design. Because of Atomic’s commitment to agile design, my design process has the flexibility to become more fine-tuned to my project and client’s needs. I’m now able to get a design framework out there and tested by end users — not just with a beta release but also to prove that the design should get built in the first place. End result? My designs have a greater chance of adapting to the needs of the client and more importantly, the end user.