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Tips for Designing & Testing Software Without a UX Specialist

4 MINUTE READ | March 6, 2019

Tips for Designing & Testing Software Without a UX Specialist

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Emily Fox

Emily Fox has written this article. More details coming soon.

While UX and user testing experts are important and have their place, they’re often less common on smaller development teams. So what can you do without a specialist to improve the usability of your software?

Before we get started, there are a few realities about UX (User Experience) design we need acknowledge:

  1. All software has users. Yes, even APIs, Bash Utilities, and Internal facing tools. If you’re writing software, you’re writing it so that someone can use it and therefore you need to not only think about how they’re going to use it but see how they actually use it.

  2. While UX is not set in stone, there are some best practices you should follow. Don’t reinvent the wheel or surprise users by designing features using interfaces that typically work another way (triangles placed over images which signify a video and ability to click and play it).

  3. UX is easier to update before you build vs. after investing development hours. Building and putting a wireframe in front of your users before you start building a tool can be extremely helpful. You can read my detailed blog post on it here.

We know that thinking about the user’s experience is good, but it’s important to test your theories with real people. Testing your application with users highlights areas you can improve in to not only make your tool more usable but give you insights into what features they need that you could then add to your roadmap, as well as what features you can remove to reduce some of your technical debt. This is a great way to improve adoption, especially if adoption KPIs aren’t being hit.

In an ideal world, you will have designed wireframes, put them in front of real people (stakeholders, users, etc) and started your user testing early in your process. Taking it a step further, you may even have a UX or user testing specialist and a process in place. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

So where do you start? Here are some basic steps you can follow to start testing the usability of your applications:

  1. Have a script — It’s important to set expectations for the user during the user testing session and those should include, what you’re testing, what you expect them to do (i.e. think out loud), and remind them that you’re testing the application and not them. There are a lot of user testing scripts available online to get you started.

  2. Create Scenarios — You want users to walk through a real-life example of how they would use the tool so you can see where they’re getting stuck, and what questions they have while running through it. I recommend running them through the scenarios before you get started with the testing session.

  3. Record them — Before running the session, ask them if it is okay to record them with screen capture, video, and audio. You can use this later to refer back to or show it to other developers to back up the decisions that need to be made from the User Testing session, if applicable.

  4. Select a moderator — If you’re the product manager or engineer, you’re likely going to be emotionally and mentally invested in the tool you’ve built. This can cause you to sway or guide the person you’re testing to favor the results you want. If you have someone that can be an impartial moderator to run the User Testing, use them.

  5. Group common feedback and identify quick wins — When implementing changes from the user testing sessions, group common feedback themes and get to work on those first.

  6. Repeat! — You’ve successfully done your first round of user testing, you’ve implemented changes, and now it’s time test again! Remember, that user testing isn’t a one and done process.

Following these tips are a great first step to ensuring the time you’ve invested in building applications is producing products people can and want to use. If your product isn’t usable then people won’t use it!

If you’re struggling to make time to complete user testing, I recommend blocking out a recurring monthly time and use that to test any new wireframes or features you have to roll out.

Best of luck!

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