User testing throughout each stage of your company’s development process is a surefire way to keep your intentions inline with your end user’s expectations. By integrating a ‘test and optimize’ approach from the outset of a new initiative you will be much less likely to run into major roadblocks and disappointing responses when you reach the finish line. You’ll be able to navigate questions raised during executive reviews by backing up your presentation with tested certainty, and build a business case for the more skeptical stakeholders.
We’ve broken down the development cycle into these test-friendly stages:
1) RESEARCH AND PLANNING At the beginning of every project, you’ll undoubtedly perform some kind of analysis, market research, or requirements gathering. As you build out your roadmap, use remote user testing to gain additional insight that will help you create in-depth user stories or personas.
- Test your current site to help define your product roadmap.
- Learn how your competitors are succeeding, and where you could differentiate.
- Look at which of your competitors have found the right mix of content and design.
- Explore how people find your product, and why they chose you.
2) DESIGN When you’re in the design phase, it’s important to remember that gaining feedback early and often is essential. The earlier on in the process you can narrow down concepts and refine your designs the better, since this can be a complex and time consuming part of any project.
- Run a gut check. Include a 5-second First Impression test to see if people react positively to your design.
- Develop your initial creative directions and ask participants to provide feedback on their expectations of each layout in order to narrow down your options.
- Share within your company to gain unbiased feedback early on and quickly from other departments.
3) PROTOTYPING Avoid bottlenecks in your development process by expediting feedback on key user flows. This is when the rubber hits the road for many stakeholders, and a critical component of any successful rollout depends on getting functionality right the first time around.
- Gain access to users’ feedback on information architecture, expected results and frustrations before launching into code.
- Put your assumptions to the test, does your prototype flow as smoothly for others who are not familiar with your product?
- Look for feedback on grammar errors, misconceptions and messaging mishaps during this phase.
- Make note of awkward task wording so you can optimize your tests once you go live.
4) DEVELOPMENT + STAGING Running into roadblocks with the engineering team? Hoping to clarify weak user stories so that your developers understand what is needed? Reviewing user tests as a team (highlight reels are perfect for this!) will paint a clear picture for everyone involved in turning your ideas into reality.
- Look for functionality errors and technical product glitches that slipped through the cracks.
- See where users stumble on data collection, social sharing plugins, and more.
- Review how users react to product-triggered automated email campaigns.
- If you’re pushing out a new website, test the responsiveness of your designs across multiple devices (lightweight QA!).
5) RELEASE You probably made some last-minute changes based on a previous round of feedback, now is the perfect time to test them out. In addition to validating prior work, take the time after release to document overlooked areas and re-prioritize subsequent releases.
- If you were updating or modifying an existing feature, test how users feel it integrates with the rest of your site.
- Examine whether or not your product is ‘share-worthy’ - are users interesting in telling others about what you offer? What are their reasons for doing (or not doing) so?
- Test your primary conversion points, and main user flows to make sure your launch provided the right fit for your customers.
6) MAINTENANCE + OPTIMIZATION It might seem like a no-brainer, but many times the smallest changes can lead to big results. By incorporating remote user testing into your ongoing optimization planning you could save your company loads of time and money.
- Re-imagine the weakest part of your product, A/B test to see which directions improve the experience.
- If this is a brand new app or website, use analytics to determine areas that could be improved and test to understand the logic behind these statistics.
- Learn whether the issues you’ve identified are of significance to your audience and prioritize your maintenance backlog.
Short, manageable bursts of testing will often yield very powerful insight and help to keep your budget, resources, and used time to a minimum. If you choose this route, and spread out your testing in order to stay within scope, you’ll probably also find that tracking feedback along the development process will result in a stronger, more viable end product.
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Stef Miller is a former marketer at UserTesting, where she spent most of her time connecting people with content. Miller has worked for global corporations and teeny tiny studios, and believes that true happiness comes from collaborating with creative people to make awesome things happen.