All apps are created with the intent to provide a solution, fill a gap or—at the very least—to amuse its users. But how do app designers and developers know for sure that they are on the right track to achieving their goal?
An app design and development project is never complete until user testing (sometimes also referred to as usability testing or QA) is carried out. This is a crucial yet often neglected aspect of the app creation process.
User testing is a method of assessing how your target users interact with your app, what purpose it serves them if it is aligned with the objective you set for it, and its overall usability. The information you gather from this activity is invaluable in determining your app’s potential for success.
To illustrate why user testing is important, let’s go through the who, what, how, when and where of this exciting process.
The obvious first step in user testing is identifying who your app users are. When you conceived the concept for your app, who were the people you had in mind? What is their demographic? What age bracket do they belong to? What social class do they fall under? What are their interests? These are just some examples of things to consider when creating a persona for your target users. This is important in order to ensure that the app you designed is relevant to the people you designed it for—that it solves a problem they might have and that they can navigate it with ease.
Once you have clearly defined your user persona, find a small group of people (five to eight people is enough) with the same characteristics as your persona. As you observe your test users while they are using your app, you will notice a pattern—similar problems they encounter in using the app, common feedback or reactions and the same features they like or dislike. These are the things you should take note of, which brings us to…
We’ve briefly touched on what is being analysed and evaluated in user testing; now let us go deeper into the nitty-gritty:
1. Purpose of users for using your app
User testing will give you an insight into why users use your app and what their expectations are. What problem(s) do they want your app to solve? What needs do they want your app to fulfil?
These are very important data because they are indicative of how close you are to achieving your goal for your app. If your concept and design meet the users’ expectations, then you know you’re on the right track.
2. Problems and difficulties they encounter while using your app
User testing will reveal the roadblocks your target users may possibly encounter before they achieve their goal. How many clicks or taps did it take for them to accomplish what they wanted to do? How long did it take before they succeeded?
Moreover, if you are testing on several devices with different operating systems, you might as well check your app for compatibility issues and OS-specific bugs.
3. Features they love and use the most in your app
User testing is also an opportunity for you to discover the features your users most like or enjoy using, how frequently they use them and why they love them. These revelations aren’t just things to give yourself a pat on the back for, but they can be the selling points you can focus on when you are marketing your app.
4. Assumptions you or the developer might have had about your app
User testing does not only evaluate the experience of your potential users with your app. It can also confirm or disprove certain assumptions you, the app designer or developer might have had when creating the app.
5. Changes and improvements to the app
Ultimately, user testing will help you identify the specific aspects of your app that you need to correct, improve, or remove altogether, as well as the elements that you need to include or focus on. The best part is you will know what these specific elements are based on actual user experience instead of assumptions and guesswork.
Now that you know what you should learn from user testing, let’s discuss how you’re going to obtain them.
First, you need to set up the prototype or trial app with only the core set of functionalities relevant to what you want to test on your small group of users. Pay attention to how they navigate the app, where they get stuck and how they resolve the situation. Allow them to give oral feedback and voice out their opinions while they are using the app. Observe also non-verbal cues like facial expressions and body language.
Make sure you document the entire process by taking down notes, or by using audio or video recording. (See to it that your legalities are protected by asking participating users to sign a consent form.) There are also screen recorders available so you can monitor user behaviour while they are exploring your app.
Additionally, keep a changelog to track all the revisions you make to your app to avoid version problems, especially if you’re planning on conducting more than one series of user testing.
When and Where?
Timing is indeed everything. User testing is important, but you also have to know when it should be done, and conducting it in an appropriate place may make it even more effective.
Tests in the initial stages of your app design (also called formative tests) are low-fidelity tests using a paper prototype or a rough mock-up that can be done anywhere and only involves the user and the moderator. This type of testing is quick and easy to do, and it happens before development starts so there are no codes yet to revise. Testing during the app’s early phase allows you to immediately spot potential issues that could be expensive and more complicated to fix in later stages, thus, saving you a lot of time, effort and resources.
Summative tests, on the other hand, are high-fidelity tests conducted during the final stages of app development. They are usually held in labs or in environments that can help simulate real-life user experiences where your app will be used. These tests validate the usability of your app and measures the users’ success rate as well as the time they spend to complete their task.
The importance of user testing on your app before rolling it out cannot be stressed enough. Not only does it give you useful insight into what your users really need and how they interact with your app, but it also helps you manage issues before the app is made available to the public. The bottom line is user testing could save you a lot of time, trouble, wasted effort and unnecessary costs.
That being said, you should also acknowledge that no app will ever be 100% flawless. App design and development, like most things, are ever-evolving processes. Apps can only survive by continuing to change according to user preferences, trends, and technological advancements. That is why app updates are available every now and then.
Now that you know why user testing on your new app is very important, check out our other blogs and learn new stuff such as how to design your websites with a purpose.