A Few Good Tests

I watched A Few Good Men again recently and a quote sparked my thoughts on User Experience. As most things do. Captain Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon) says “I represent the government of the United States without passion or prejudice.”

Sure, this is how you want your lawyers to think. But this is also how good UX researchers and designers should treat design – without passion or prejudice. It’s obvious that a researcher should be objective about the design they’re testing but should a designer not be passionate? It’s great to have passion but not if it adversely affects usability or business goals. Design trends, such as the initial rush to flat design or the low contrast text show, can negatively impact business as design decisions are made without testing with users. And as I may have mentioned once or twice over the years, if you don’t involve the user – it’s not user experience.

The problem frequently occurs when a hero designer is hired with the expectation of creating a functional, usable and aesthetic solution first time. That’s a lot of pressure and if that’s the expectation in the organisation then it may not be easy to put up your hand early on to ask which of these designs work better before continuing. This forces the designer to put great effort into one design which makes it harder to change later due to emotional commitment and the cognitive dissonance involved in accepting it’s not working well. Changing a finished digital product typically costs two orders of magnitude more than changing a design so from a business perspective it’s best to catch usability issues early.

All you need is a few good tests (groan – but you knew it was coming). Testing designs with just five users per user group can unearth 80% of issues with a design. It doesn’t require expensive labs with one way mirrors or eye-tracking hardware just simply watch and record representative people using your designs while they tell you what they’re doing. Iterate. Test again. More on how to do it properly here.

It’s quite trite (even for me!) but the most famous quote, “You can’t handle the truth!”, is often the reason designers, developers and product managers will avoid usability testing. But it’s better business to test designs early and then be as passionate as you like about the detail of the one that works best for your users.

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