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Lessons from Early Rounds of Usability Testing

My last post about usability testing talked about set up and guidelines for testing. Following up, here are some outcomes and lessons from a couple testing sessions so far:
  • You can get great feedback. It’d be great to build a product leveraging the experience of the founders in a startup and customers use the product seamlessly. However, founders’ view of the world can be skewed. Usability testing solicits feedback directly from the target audience.
  • Find users who will provide candid feedback. Operative words are “provide” and “candid”. Usability testing can be awkward for testers not used to giving honest feedback. It’s important for the company and customers that users provide critical feedback knowing no answer is wrong – benefits go around for everyone.
  • Bugs can screw it all up. The goal of usability testing is to assess how users interact with the product. Sometimes, you’ll want users to perform specific tasks. However, product bugs can quickly halt testing; thus, preventing constructive feedback. Now, feedback may focus on bugs rather than usability.
  • Early testing can tell you everything. Stop. Iterate. Continue later. That is, early users may find resounding issues during tests. You’ll know it when it happens. In this case, discontinue testing till these headaches are resolved else you get the same feedback from all users. Go again.
  • Watch for unspoken signs. In presentations and demos, I scan faces in the room for emotions and reactions. In usability testing, I do the same. Do they seem delighted or uninterested? Is the user focused? Confused? What’s left unsaid can be most telling.
Usability testing has been a great process for us so far. We identified key gaps, and emerged focusing efforts on select features while reducing clutter. Before, we hypothesized what users wanted. Testing has provided real data and insight.

What outcomes or lessons have you learned from usability testing as a test-giver? Any input as a test-taker? How has usability testing helped your company’s product development and roadmap?

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