The importance of UX testing

We’ve all come across a website or used an application where, despite the obvious production values invested in its aesthetic appearance, something isn’t quite right.

It might be confusing navigation, or a flash of window dressing, as distracting as it is redundant. Poor accessibility, or any other of a myriad of reasons that make your experience one you’ve no desire to repeat.

What looks good on paper, doesn’t necessarily work in practice.

What is UX testing?

UX testing places your product in the hands of the customer and end-user during the development process, so that feedback on its constituent elements can be harvested and acted upon. These might include layout, design, content, functionality and interaction.

By observing how it performs in the hands of a real user, you can fix errors, iron out the creases, and continually improve, until you have a product everybody is happy with.

This way, you can ensure you never lose sight of what the customer and end-user wants from their website or app, adapting to fit business and user goals.

Why Agile?

The Agile approach sees development of a creative project carried out in short (usually 2- 4 weeks) cycles known as iterations, or ‘sprints’. This places an emphasis on:

  • Flexibility
  • Feedback
  • Improvement

Which creates a framework intended to be:

  • Iterative
  • Adaptive
  • Fast

If you are developing in an Agile environment, your aim is to get a functional product into the hands of the end user as quickly as possible. This is the bare bones, which you then flesh out incrementally – according to the feedback you receive – over the subsequent iterations.

Successive releases are adapted, tweaked and improved, until an end product exists that meets the needs of the customer, and matches the expectations of the user.

UX testing + Agile

Although there’s no strict linearity in the development cycle of an Agile framework, the fact remains that an Agile iteration and the accepted UX prototype design and testing process, are very similar.

As with the Agile approach, UX design is a system in which you iterate, test, learn from user reactions, rinse and repeat.

Traditional UX Testing can often be a long, drawn out process, with multiple test subjects, and results sometimes taking weeks to be collated, analysed and readied for the next stage. With Agile iterations all about a customer-focused, faster turnaround (the development cycle, remember, is also known as a ‘sprint’), the timeframes of the two disciplines may seem incompatible.

This ignores one of the core values of the Agile development methodology: Adaptability.

Integrating UX Testing with Agile

It is simply a case of adapting UX Testing to fit in with the development cycle.

Size. Whether testing remotely or in-house, keep the number of participants involved in the process low. UX Designer and Blogger, Jeff Gothelf, suggests as few as three  (we would argue that in many projects fewer still) users are suitable for validation, and putting your team on the right footing for the next iteration.

Design. Begin your conceptual design early, and execute as much UX work as possible prior to the onset of development. This will aid in maintaining a consistent UI, as well as user familiarity, as the product evolves. Consider keeping the UX design team one iteration ahead of the developers

Continual testing. Ensure that UX Testing is an intrinsic, preferably scheduled, component of your development cycle. Undertaking testing at regular, preordained intervals will give your teams the steady flow of feedback they require to adapt to user needs, and plan for the next iteration.

Jeff Gothelf, UX Designer:

“The goal of Agile usability testing is to clear the boulders from the road – not provide pixel-level design direction.

By using a combination of the user-centric methodology behind UX Testing, and the flexible, customer-focused approach of Agile, firm bedrock upon which to build more successful websites and apps.