Usability testing: Even users don’t know what they want until they use it

usability blueprint

When we build software, I continue to be surprised with clients and stakeholders push back on the concept of user testing. I’ve heard the excuses: we don’t want to interrupt people, we want to operate in stealth mode, we don’t want to connect you with our people, etc.,

But here is the problem, if I were to ask somebody on behalf of somebody what they want, where they want to put something, how something should work, it’s merely a second-hand guess. Even if I am able to talk directly to a potential user and ask them the same question, I might even get the same answers.

It is only when I have something to show, something to demonstrate, even a paper prototype that allows somebody to look at something, challenged with performing a user journey, or asked to perform a set of steps; will I know if the user interface (UI) makes sense and is streamlined and intuitive.

Recently, we built a house. Before construction, the project manager asked where I wanted to have a particular light switch. It seemed like a ridiculous question and an obvious answer: near the door. So, they installed the light switch near the door.

But, it was only after construction and I went into that dark room for the first time did I realize that the light switch should have been on the outside of the door, not inside the door. I had to fumble around in a dark room trying to find the light switch.

This is the importance of user testing. Ideally, I would have been invited back into the house during construction, while they were doing the wiring, to allow me to walk through the house and then confirm, once again, where I wanted the light switch. I think it would have been quite a bit more obvious where that switch should be had I been invited back in during development.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to involve users at every stage of the design and development process, regardless of what you are building. It could be websites, cars, houses, games, stores, or devices. Users need to be at the center of the design decisions. Builders and designers should employ user centered design (UCD) practices if they want to deliver a rewarding user experience (UX).