The successful user testing environment

The importance of user testing cannot be overestimated. Ultimately, it is the end user who will determine the quality of an application or the usability of a website, and opinions are critical in this age of rapid and unfettered mass communication. A poor user interface may lead to complaints that go viral and a poorly designed website reflects badly on the organisation it represents.
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The problem is that user testing often comes up short due to cost overruns or release deadlines. It isn’t enough just to fund some user tests, one must create the proper user testing environment.

One important factor is to base testing on real world scenarios. These should be derived directly from how the end user operates, and not just generic ideas based on “everybody knows” style ideas.  For example, everybody knows how certain accounting actions are done, but different organisations will approach these actions, and use the data produced, in different ways. Real world scenarios can be built by involving users from the very beginning of the project. As users add input, they are defining requirements that might have been missed during the original product definition. 

The skillful use of moderated and unmoderated tests can also help build the proper user testing environment. Skillful use is defined as knowing when to moderate and when not to moderate. In some cases, a moderator is essential and helps smooth and integrate the testing process. However, the Uncertainty Principle may apply in other cases. The presence of a moderator may exert too much control on those doing the testing and cause important information to be overlooked. Wisdom is knowing when to moderate and when not to moderate, based on testing requirements.

While tasks should be delineated as clearly as possible, it’s also important to record the musings of UX testers. Record what they like and what they don’t like as well as what works for them and what doesn’t. This is especially important when doing onsite testing.  It’s not always possible to know exactly how an application will function in a particular environment until it actually is in that environment.

UX testing is a vital element in any testing program. It is something that should be budgeted for and given equal importance with all other types of testing. The easiest way to create a successful user testing environment is to know the planning, implementation and evaluation criteria for your particular project with regard to user experience testing and to make certain that these criteria are met throughout the development and testing process.

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