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Testing Your Own Designs

Usability testing session

Today I published an article in UXmatters, Testing Your Own Designs. It’s often been said that you shouldn’t conduct usability testing on your own designs, because you may be too biased, defensive, or too close to the design to be an impartial facilitator. Although that may be the ideal, often UX designers don’t have a choice. They may be the only person available to test the design, so if they don’t test it, no one will. So in this article I provide advice for those times when you have to test your own design, and I also provide advice for when someone else tests your design.

I was hesitant to write this article, because it’s been a topic that many others have written about, but I felt that as someone who has been on all sides of the issue, I had something additional to add. Here are some other good articles about this topic:

Testing Your Own Designs: Bad Idea? and Testing Your Own Designs Redux by Paul Sherman

Should Designers and Developers Do Usability? by Jakob Nielsen

BECAUSE NOBODY’S BABY IS UGLY … SHOULD DESIGNERS TEST THEIR OWN STUFF? by Cathy Carr at Bunnyfoot

The Most Difficult User Research Method

User research participant at desk

What do these three things have in common – playing in a one-man band, juggling chainsaws, and babysitting 10 three-year-olds? When you try to do all of these things at the same time, it’s only slightly more difficult than conducting field studies.

Of course, I’m just kidding, but not by much. In my opinion, field studies are the most difficult user research technique for three reasons: unpredictability, the need to learn about unfamiliar domains, and the need to deal with competing demands. There’s not much you can do about unpredictability or the need to learn a new domain, but there are things that you can do to better handle the competing demands of field studies.

In my latest article on UXmatters, I discuss these competing demands and how to best handle them:

  • Observing and listening
  • Understanding
  • Determining whether and when to ask questions
  • Formulating questions
  • Assessing answers
  • Managing the session
  • Assessing the session
  • Keeping track of the time
  • Managing observers
  • Capturing the session
  • Maintaining a good rapport with the participant

Read more in my latest article, Handling the Competing Demands of Field Studies.

Image credit: Highways England on Flickr

More UX Analogies

I just published an article on UXmatters today, “Why So Many UX Analogies?” It’s an investigation into why there are so many articles that compare UX to other things and whether these UX analogies have any value. I mentioned some examples in my article, but here are links to many more UX Analogies. Trust me, this doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Professions


Other Fields


Pop Culture

 

Hobbies/Activities

 

History

 

Miscellaneous

It’s Only Usability Testing, What Could Go Wrong?

Usability Testing Observation Room

I published a new article in UXmatters this week, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong? The Biggest Mistakes in Usability Testing.”

This article came out of thinking about all of the mistakes I’ve made, and problems I’ve encountered, over the last 16 years conducting usability testing. I think it’s good to look back and think about the lessons you’ve learned. This article is jam-packed with advice learned the hard way.

Usability testing is the most highly structured user research method. Compared to field studies and interviews, the tasks and questions are usually highly planned, and you usually stick pretty close to the discussion guide. That also makes it the most repetitive method. You see the same types of people performing the same tasks and answering the same questions over and over again.

After you get some experience, you can begin to think of usability testing as routine and pretty easy. At a former company, it was the first task that we gave to new researchers, just out of college. It seemed like the easiest method to learn. That may be true, but there are still all kinds of mistakes that can occur. This article discusses the main problems and how to avoid them.

Photo by Blue Oxen Associates on Flickr

UX Career Advice

Today I published a new article in UXmatters, “What to Consider When Choosing a UX Job.” It details the questions you should ask and consider when contemplating a new job in the UX field.

I’ve written several UX career advice articles over the years. I link to them on my Publications page, but here they are compiled for easy reference. I don’t claim to be a career expert, but these are just some of the things I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) in my 15 years in UX.

What to Consider When Choosing a UX Job
UXmatters – January 4, 2016
Lately, it seems like there are more jobs in User Experience than ever before. Deciding whether to accept a particular position is always an important decision, but in a hot job market like this, with so many opportunities, choosing the right company to work for is more important than ever. As with any other job opportunity, there are typical criteria to consider such as salary, benefits, company culture, and the commute. But, in this article, I’ll focus on the special considerations when you’re contemplating a new UX job.

UX Generalists or Specialists?
UXmatters – September 7, 2015
This is a question that every UX professional faces at some point: is it better to be a UX generalist, or is it better to specialize? Companies often question whether a team of UX generalists or a mix of specialists is best. In this column, I’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of generalization and specialization for UX professionals and the companies that hire them.

Better UX Internships
UXmatters – March 10, 2014
An internship is a great way to get into the field of user experience, but internships are often failures—for both the intern and the hiring company. Why? The hiring companies often don’t have a plan for how to use their interns, and interns often don’t know how they can contribute or where they fit in. In this column, I’ll discuss what interns and companies can do to ensure a better internship experience.

Career Advice for User Researchers
UXmatters – December 5, 2011
Eleven years seems like a good point at which to reflect back on the things I’ve learned over my career and pass on some advice to those who are just getting started in the field of user research.

Publishing and Presenting, Part 1: Yes, You Can!
UXmatters – November 12, 2012
In Part 1, I’ll discuss the benefits of publishing and presenting, as well as explore the excuses that prevent people from doing either. Publishing and presenting is a lot of work, especially when you’re already a busy UX professional. So why bother? Here are a few reasons you should.

Publishing and Presenting, Part 2: Publishing
UXmatters – December 10, 2012
Perhaps Part 1 of this series convinced you of the benefits of publishing, dispelled your fears, and defeated the excuses that have prevented you from publishing in the past. But how do you get started writing, and how do you get your writing published? These are the questions I’ll answer in Part 2.

Publishing and Presenting, Part 3: Presenting
UXmatters – January 7, 2013
In part 3 of this of this series, I’ll discuss how to generate ideas for conference topics, find the right conference at which to present, submit a proposal, and create a presentation, and what to do during a conference where you’re presenting.

This One Goes to 11

I just published an article on UXmatters, 10 User Research Myths and Misconceptions. It addresses common misunderstandings about user research that I’ve encountered over the years.

Here’s a bonus outtake from the article, Myth 11…

Myth 11: Field Research Is Better Than Usability Testing

On the other end of the spectrum from those who don’t understand the difference between user research and usability testing, are the user research elitists who think up-front, generative user research methods are far superior to usability testing. In this view, field studies take researchers out of the lab to observe people in their natural environments performing their usual activities, while usability testing takes place in the sterile, artificial environment of a usability lab and asks people to perform a limited set of artificial tasks. Instead of learning about people and what they really do, usability testing provides the limited value of learning whether people can perform your artificial tasks.

The Truth: Both Field Research and Usability Testing Have Their Places

Field studies and usability testing are two different methods used for different, but equally important, purposes. Field studies provide information to inform design, while usability testing evaluates a design. You have to make interpretations and conclusions from the user research and apply that to a design. Even after very thorough user research, you’re never completely sure that what you’ve designed will work well for the users. Usability testing is the evaluation that either confirms your decisions or points you to refinements. Both user research and usability testing are important and necessary. There’s no reason we can’t appreciate the value of both methods.

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