Fast and Free – Validating Concepts and Designs in Friendly-User Tests

UX/UI designers often get their most serious work done alone. So how to avoid designing garbage? Get a little help from your friends.

Published: May 11, 2018

A couple of days ago, I fell into the trap again. I had been working on a landing page concept and was just finishing up the wireframes and a nifty Keynote presentation to help explain it. Bam, I nailed it. Or so I thought.

Then I wanted to get my boss on board with the ideas. He sat down with me and stopped the first person passing by.

“What do you think about this?” he asked, pointing to my screen.

“Oh. There’s way to much going on there!” the coworker exclaimed, as if it were as clear as day. “I just don’t get what I’m supposed to do on the page.”

Within a few seconds, my bulletproof concept was shot up and bleeding out.

The incident reminded me: You don’t need a $10k budget or a full-fledged user testing laboratory complete with eye-tracking stations to identify UX fails. You just need a quick friendly user test.

What is a “friendly user test”?

With formal user tests, you usually gotta pump out the big bucks, get a team of UX researchers, designers and maybe some front-end devs to drum up some test scenarios and lure some testers into a studio where you spend the day watching 'em poke around a hi-fi prototype from behind one-way mirrors. Then you wait for official test documentation and reports.

Friendly user tests are you’re po’ boy version. They’re informal situations in which you ask someone to perform a task using a prototype you’ve created – basically asking someone for a second opinion.

Why do friendly-user testing?

Designers sometimes just need their space.

When faced with tasks that demand my full attention like reworking a navigation concept, digging into data for insights on user behavior or building complex interactive prototypes using logic, I need to withdraw to my cave. Or bury my head in thick headphones. Focussing one one thing means you have to blur out everything else.

But when focusing on one problem, I usually end up with various solutions. At best, they are based upon data. But more often than not, they are based upon personal preference or experience: The add-to-basket pattern that I saw in some minimalist webshop. The u flow that wowed me in some app.fc

By watching how your tester attempts to perform the task, you learn about what works well and where they get stuck. Using that knowledge, you can improve your prototype to make sure task completion is as smooth as possible.

How to do friendly-user testing?

1. Set a goal

What is the goal of your UI – and what hoops does the user have to jump through to reach it?

Say for example you’re working on an onboarding situation and ultimately want your new visitors to create an account. There are tons of things the user needs to do beforehand:

  1. Understand what the app/website/thing is about
  2. Understand the benefits of signing up
  3. Weigh any other available options (e.g. previewing without registration)
  4. Decide to register
  5. Go through the signup process

Each of those steps in the task flow are like mini-challenges for the user – and each can be tested.

2. Mock It Up

Do a mockup or build a prototype that includes the hurdle you want your tester to get through.

For example, if you want to test the signup process, your prototype would include some sort of form or way to sign up (e.g. with Facebook Connect, Google Plus or whatever login types). You would want to include error states in case of invalid entries, network errors etc.

Prototypes don’t always have to include all possible edge cases, however. If you just want to see whether the form structure makes sense, you can just test a non-interactive image.

3. Find a Friend and Ask for Help

Find a friend. Or colleague in a different department. Or the pizza delivery dude. It really doesn’t matter, as long as they a) are not UX/UI practicioners themselves and b) aren’t familiar with your project.

Ask them if they have a second and that you need their opinion. People almost always say yes since a second is not that long and asking for their opinion makes them feel important.

4. Give Your Tester a Task

To do so, you’ll need to provide just enough background info to your tester so he or she can run with it.

For example, if you wanna make sure your signup process is smooth, you can set the stage by saying something like:

“Say you’re visiting my website/app/thing for the first time and wanna sign up. Go ahead and create an account.”

5. Watch and Learn

Rule Number 1 about friendly user testing: Never tell your tester where to click, tap or touch (unless something in your prototype isn’t working properly).

Just watch how your friend interacts with the UI and listen to their comments. No need to explain yourself.

Remember: Your friend is critiquing your work, not your value as a human being!

6. Rewind, Rework, Retest

Thank your friend for their help. Then think about how you can improve your concept or design.

Then rework your mocks or prototypes and snatch a minute of another friend’s time.

Putting Things into Perspective

I’m not saying that large-scale usability testing is unnecessary. Its vital for ensuring you don’t dump buckets of money into a concept full of potholes.

Friendly-User TestingBig-Budget User Testing
UpsidesQuick and FreeThey appear more official and convince stakeholders better
DownsidesThey’re difficult to prove and convince others withExpensive and time-consuming
Use it ForValidating conceptsValidating concepts before major development

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