As a user…

This month the latest entrants to our UX graduate scheme started training on the fundamentals of UX. One of the sessions was about usability testing — why and how we do it: how to recruit, moderation and observation best practice and how to analyse the results.

I went along to the training session as a test participant. An informal usability lab was the setting. We were testing a prototype of a website designed for employees of a business.

As a UX team manager, I’ve moderated and observed user research many times but of course I’m rarely on the other side of the fence.

Here is what I experienced as a usability testing participant:

1. It is nerve-wracking!

Even though I know the script inside-out (thinkaloud principle, we are testing the design, not the user etc etc) I still felt a little under pressure completing the tasks. Why couldn’t I find that piece of information? Was I being slow? Did I need more coffee? It is human nature to place high expectations on ourselves to review, interpret and master technology quickly and to feel inadequate if we don’t. The gentle reassurance and patience of the moderator really was important. A powerful reminder of why empathy is the most important quality for a UXer. And don’t skip the script!

2. There is a lot of insight to be gained

We had a simple prototype with four navigation items, yet there were still plenty of times I got lost or needed to click several places to complete the task. There were also spontaneous observations about the way the design made me feel. Sometimes when we are under pressure as designers we can assume things are obvious, de-scope or postpone testing. Test early and often! It’s well-worn UX advice that still stands.

3. Participating can be fun

In this instance I was seeing a brand new design and I didn’t know what would happen next. Would I find new information or ideas that could make my life easier? Or a new product to add to my existing toolkit? Whether or not users are early-adopters, many are curious about the future and want to help shape it.

So overall a great reminder of why we work this way and I encourage everyone to try being a participant from time to time.

Thanks to the excellent team at Webcredible, our training partners!