What is guerrilla testing and how do you use it?

Posted on May 3, 2023
3 min read

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What is guerrilla testing?

Guerrilla testing is a means of gathering user feedback by taking a design or prototype into the public domain and asking passersby for their thoughts. Due to its simplicity, new ideas can be tested quickly and at a low cost, making it a valuable UX testing method.

Why choose guerrilla testing?

Sometimes you just need a fresh pair of eyes on a solution. Guerrilla testing allows you to go out, and ask anyone their thoughts on your product or service. It's quick and easy. There's no waiting around for recruiters to find people nor any travel costs for users.

Guerrilla testing is also a great way to do ad hoc user research. Whether conducting a competitor analysis for similar ideas or practicing your moderation skills, this type of testing gets you in front of anyone who says yes.

How to do guerrilla testing

So, by now we know that guerrilla testing is all about getting something in front of people, whether they’re your users or not. But how exactly do we do guerrilla testing?

Always plan research or testing sessions

First, think about the best potential spots to find users. Is it the closest coffee shop or might there be a better environment where your specific audience is more likely to be found?

guerrilla testing in cafe

Always be sure to write a discussion guide, no matter how short or how long. Any time spent with users can prove invaluable, so always include the important questions and assumptions just in case you come across someone who is your user.

Also consider where you’re doing the testing. This will impact what you can test and how much detail you can go into. An average person may be able to raise simple usability issues, but will they understand the terminology?

What to do when guerrilla testing

Don't forget that your presence is part of the UX equation. How you come across is going to affect how people respond to your enquiries. What you wear, how you speak, the words you use, and how you behave will all have an effect on test subjects.

When you’re approaching people, be confident. Your body language needs to ensure people that you’re not wasting their time. You’re there to understand someone, which in return may actually help them.

Always thank users for their time. If you can, plan incentives for those who talk to you. Whether it’s buying coffee for someone’s time or giving them a mini-prize, you want to make sure you're appreciative. 

What not to do when guerrilla testing

Just because guerrilla testing is meant to be ad hoc, it doesn’t mean it has to be entirely unplanned. Make sure you nail your introduction and plan how much time you’re going to ask of users.

It’s hard to determine how insightful a random interviewee may be, but do not take longer than you asked for. Always ask them if they are okay with you stealing a little more time than planned. But bear in mind that you were not part of their plan. People will not be happy if you don’t respect their time, which may lead to biased and unhelpful responses to your questions.

Don’t always conduct your guerrilla testing in the same places or types of places. Any one place invites a certain type of people. So, conducting research in the same location is the equivalent of conducting research with the same demographic of people. This will not ensure a variety of users, nor help you uncover a wider variety of issues. Test in different types of places and seek out a varied audience. Take note of how many women, men, people of different ages and ethnicities you’re approaching. 

Key takeaways

Just because guerrilla testing is cheap and quick, doesn’t mean you have to be. Always be armed with prepared questions. While this type of research may not be thorough, it’s a great foot in the door to show the value of spending time with users. And it can often provide surprisingly powerful insights.

Like all tools and techniques, guerrilla testing is what you make of it. If you use the technique, you should consider it as just one part of your overall usability testing strategy.

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