Do user testing… with real people

In around 2005 I was working on a hotel booking engine for a website, it was for my own business at the time. And I had a scary unexpected experience one summer weekend which has affected the way I think about product development till this day.

My mother was visiting, and I asked her to try out the website. Inadvertently, I had arranged my first ever user test.

The website was I thought pretty cool, it had tens of thousands of hotels and even had a proximity search so you could find hotels for example near monuments or parks, and this was before geo enabled MySQL 5. My confidence that she would like it was very high.

The problem although I didn’t realise it was that the site was clearly unusable, it sucked. I watched my mother click on all the wrong things, follow user paths I’d never imagined, it was painful, hard to watch and frankly awful. From that day on I understood the importance of user testing. I promptly ordered Steve Krug’s book ‘Don’t make me think’ and learned about usability and user testing.

In most of the companies I have been in since, little thought was given to user testing and usually only internal testing was done which for me doesn’t count. The tests always came too late anyway, just before launch.

Fortunately this whole testing thing has a new raison d’être now and new guise with the advent of so called ‘lean UX’ which I guess shows somewhere that scrum with the idea of early user feedback has clearly failed. I like Lean UX though and if it helps product managers get a product out earlier to real users, that has to be a good thing. Software development is too expensive both in itself and for the business to waste time pursuing the wrong direction.

I recommend the book ‘Lean UX‘ and also the video workshop. Oh, and for heavens sake, put those detailed designs away, cancel those design meetings, take a break from your analytics and test with real people!

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