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31 Questions Every Designer Should Ask When Testing Prototypes

| May 13, 2015
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You already know user testing is a key to building a great user experience, but many companies begin the process a lot later than they should. Whether you’re creating a website, mobile app, landing page, or other product, testing can happen at any stage of the design cycle. That means if you’ve got an idea on a cocktail napkin, you can test it. If it sounds odd to test something before it’s fully baked, you’re not alone—many companies wait until their offering is fully developed before they test it, and suffer the consequences.

Testing during the prototype phase enables you to assure the design is going in the right direction, and that any essential features or flaws are addressed, before even one line of code has been written. It’s a lot easier to redesign a prototype than a finished product, so you’ll save your budget—and your sanity—by testing right from the start.

No matter what stage you’re in, there are ways to create a prototype you can test. You can start simply with just a sketch on a post-it, or use one of the many prototyping tools available to bring your idea to life. Once you have your prototype ready, make sure you’re asking yourself these questions as you begin—and continue to—test.

Concept validation

At this stage, you might have just an idea, or the proverbial sketch on a cocktail napkin. When you’re in the very early days of your idea’s life, it’s totally OK to map out the idea with “low-tech” tools, like pen and paper. Not having a fancy interface doesn’t mean you can’t ask detailed questions, however.

Here’s what you need to know during the early stages as you validate your concept:

  1. What problem does your idea solve?

  2. How are users solving this problem currently?

  3. Can your target market think of another product that does something similar?

  4. How have previous solutions failed?

  5. Do users understand what this product or service does?

  6. How do users feel about the product or service?

  7. Who is your competition?

  8. What is the app/site for? What can users do there?

  9. Does your target market actually have a need for this product?

  10. What devices do users imagine themselves using when they interact with this product?

  11. What scenarios can they picture themselves using it in?

Wireframes and lo-fi prototypes

When you’re ready to move beyond the cocktail napkin, it’s time to start wireframing. This is when your ideas start taking their first steps. While these are not interactive or functional, they still illustrate the intention and flow, which is an important process in the design phase.

Be sure you’re asking these questions to keep your project moving in the right direction:

  1. Before users even look at the wireframe or prototype, what would they expect to be able to do with it?

  2. How would they expect it to look?

  3. Once you show them the prototype, do users understand what it does?

  4. How does it measure up to their expectations?

  5. What features are missing?

  6. Does anything seem out of place or unnecessary?

  7. How do users feel when using the prototype?

  8. If users had a magic wand, what would they change about the product?

  9. How likely or unlikely would they be to use this product once it’s finished?

Hi-fi prototypes

Once you’ve worked through the kinks with the concept and design and iterated until you’re close, the hi-fi prototype is born. This will be a semi-functional facsimile of the intended end result. It should be interactive and do pretty much everything it’s supposed to, it just won’t have the shiny new-product feel to it.

Focus on these questions to make sure you’re addressing any lingering concept, flow, or basic usability issues:

  1. Does the prototype do what it’s supposed to?

  2. Do users think the product’s design matches its purpose?

  3. What’s the first thing users would want to do on this product? Can they do that?

  4. When they explore the product, do they become confused at any point?

  5. Does anything distract them or get in their way?

  6. Are there any features they completely ignore?

  7. Do the information architecture and navigation make sense? (Can users find what they’re looking for?)

  8. Does your target market feel like this product was designed for them?

  9. What, if anything, would make your users want to use this product frequently?

  10. How likely or unlikely would they be to recommend the finished product to a friend?

  11. How would they describe this product using their own words?

At this point, your cocktail napkin has grown up into a respectable, functional member of the community. While your testing days aren’t over, you’ve taken the important first steps that will save you time, money, and sanity by evaluating your idea from the start.

A note on user testing prototypes

User testing a prototype is a bit different than testing a finished product. Make sure you inform test participants before the test—or even better, in the screening process—that they’ll be testing a prototype that’s not fully functional.

It’s also a good idea to run moderated tests if you can. While unmoderated tests can be done with prototypes, chances are your participants will have questions and some tasks will require more explanation and guidance, so having a moderator present will help you get the best feedback.

Additionally, remember that testing shouldn’t stop once your product ships. You’ll not only want to test if all your insights from prototyping worked out the way you expected, but watch for additional opportunities to optimize and improve the user experience that couldn’t be tested during prototyping.

As we say here at UserTesting, “test early and often.”


If you enjoyed this article, check out our webinar, Design with Your Ears, with Arthur Bodolec.