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User Testing Wisdom From Science Fiction

Jennifer DeRome  |  April 24, 2015


This past weekend the weather was beautiful. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and I’m sure if I’d bothered to venture outside, I would’ve seen unicorns and fairies frolicing in the park. But instead, I chose to hole up in my dark apartment and binge watch sci-fi movies. Why? For research, of course!

At UserTesting we’re always trying to figure out what can be tested, or what we can learn about testing from the real world. And while my favorite genre may not technically be part of the real world, I did manage to find a few nuggets of user testing wisdom hidden in the plots.

The Truth Is Out There

Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Mulder and Scully were onto something with this one. Even if things seem to be sailing along nicely, chances are there’s some user experience issue hiding out there that you haven’t stumbled across just yet—but your users eventually will.

User testing early and often helps you uncover whatever mysteries may be hiding within the pages and screens of your site or app, before you have a full-blown UFO conspiracy on your hands.

These Aren’t the Droids You’re   Looking For

Oh the classic Jedi mind trick. It’s hard not to fall for it, after all, it’s a Jedi mind trick. But when it comes to user testing, we need to resist the Force and see things for how they really are, not what we’re hoping they’d be.

A classic example is bias in testing. If you’re convinced you know what’s not working, it’s natural to try to design your test to confirm that hypothesis. For example, if you think users aren’t downloading your content because the headlines aren’t catchy enough, you might focus on only having test participants review only headlines.

But by doing that, you run the risk of missing all the other potential reasons users aren’t devouring your content. Maybe it’s your site’s navigation, or you gate your content with a lengthy form. When you stop looking for a glitch in just one place, you may find the answer hiding in plain sight. And who knows? Maybe those really are the droids you’re looking for.

Back to the Future

Sometimes I think user testing is a bit like time travel. By testing out an experience before it’s released into the wild (and even after) we get a glimpse into what the a user or customer’s experience will be like in the future.

Through testing we can pinpoint where things go haywire, then fire up the flux capacitor and head back to the present to make things right.

She Knows It’s A Multipass

If you’ve ever caught yourself stating the obvious, you’ve probably know all about the ‘multipass.’ It’s funny, except when it comes to user testing.

An easy way frustrate your test participants is to repeatedly state the obvious—not to mention jeapordize your test results by giving away too much information. For example, there’s no need to instruct participants to “Click on the green button on the top right hand of the screen to place your purchase in the shopping cart.” Instead just instruct users to “Add your purchases to your cart.”

Great user and customer experience should feel easy and intuitive to users. While you don’t want to hide information from them, you also shouldn’t have to hold their hand every step of the way, either. Let your test participants find their way through the site and perform tasks in their own way.

I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That Dave

Sometimes all users want is to open the pod bay door; why won’t you let us do it, HAL?

Pay close attention to how your test participants interact with a site or app, taking note of any instances where they can’t seem to do what they want to do or get where they’re trying to go. For example, if a participant keeps clicking a button that doesn’t take them where they want to go, or give them what they’re hoping for, they’re probably feeling a bit like Dave, and we all know that relationship doesn’t end well.

While these lessons were inspired by fiction, the situations they represent in user testing are real—both inside the matrix, and out.

Remember: All I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more. - Morpheus
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About the author:

Jennifer is a Senior Content Strategist for UserTesting. When she's not dreaming up new ways to connect with audiences, you can find her traveling around the world or enjoying a glass of wine with friends.