When to do user testing — a three phase approach

Parker Mincey | May 4, 2020

We often think of user experience (UX) testing as an accompaniment to design work. While that is certainly true, UX design and testing should be approached holistically. There are three phases in which UX research should be conducted — exploratory, design, and validation.

For this article, we'll focus on one of the most common reasons to conduct UX research – website redesign.

1. Usability testing to identify problems

Prior to making any design improvements, we need to understand what needs to be improved. This phase of the research will show us which aspects of a current website are not meeting user expectations. It will also illuminate changes that should not be made by uncovering areas in which user expectations are met. Teams will almost certainly have hypotheses at this stage; however, it is crucial to understand that we are biased users of a platform. Hypotheses are a good place to start but should not be the guiding force behind the exploratory phase of research.

This initial portion of the research is also a great opportunity to evaluate competitor platforms for the same purpose.

  • What are similar websites doing right?
  • What are they doing wrong?
  • What can we learn from the competition?

2. User testing to iteratively guide design

Once we have a general idea of user expectations and frustrations, we can begin the design process. This phase of the research should be iterative: Design, test, design, test…

Conducting iterative tests during the design phase serves two purposes:

  1. Making sure that designers are hitting the mark
  2. Providing design direction

Without iterative testing, teams risk wasting time and money. We must make sure that we do not make too many changes without getting input from the user. Polls, click tests, and tree tests can be quickly fielded if you're maintaining a panel of users for testing. Repeated usability testing is possible when the budget is distributed across smaller tests with fewer users — after all, it only takes five users to uncover most usability problems. Still, the cost is nothing compared to the potential losses suffered by having to completely redesign the redesign, all because users were not consulted along the way.

Testing during the design phase also generates new ideas that design teams may not have considered. Remember, we are biased toward the platforms we design and test. User insights during the design process can provide inspiration and highlight the perceived differences in usability between the user and the design team.

3. User research to validate (or invalidate) the product

Now that we have completed, and possibly implemented, the redesign, we need to make sure we got it right. This is the "final comments" part of the research and design process. A final round, or rounds, of testing should be conducted to verify the findings and uncover any usability issues that may not have previously surfaced.

Once the site has been fully implemented, UX testing serves one final purpose — to catch bugs. The research and redesign are meaningless if the site doesn't work. This is where we must, again, consider our biases. Developers certainly test the site before it goes live, but they are not standard users and see it through a different lens. Final rounds of testing with actual users of the site can reveal hidden issues preventing the user from his or her optimal experience.

Why UX testing is important

To optimize a platform, user experience testing needs to happen prior to design, during design, and after design/implementation. Usability testing at each of these phases guides your design team on what to design, how to design it, and whether the output is accurate and bug-free. Neglecting this research during any part of the design and implementation process puts teams, organizations, and budgets at risk.

Bellomy has teams of trained recruiters and usability testing moderators who will ensure designs are serving their intended purpose — improving the user experience. Contact a UX research specialist to discuss the best testing methods for your project, no matter what phase you're in.