Thoughts, musings, and adventures of a user experience designer and front-end developer

Case Study: The Importance of User Testing

A recent project of mine involved the development of a new internal application for thousands of users within an agency to create and publish their curriculum vitas (CV). The development team was small – just three developers, one designer (me), and two project managers. I began by meeting with the developers and project managers to obtain the specific requirements for this application. I then created the static mock-ups and, following the approval of these mock-ups by the project manager, the developers built the application.

In the beginning, all was well. The web developers and I knew what functionality would be required. The design was simple in an effort to prevent user confusion. We never discussed user testing because we all assumed the application would be easy to use. In addition, user testing just wasn’t part of the process.

The image below is the first iteration of the design mock-up.

image of the design in phase 1

After I developed this first mock-up, there were additional meetings with the project managers and with each meeting we received additional requirements.  The addition of these requirements resulted in a design that began looking cramped and confusing:

As a designer, I quickly became unnerved with the lack of attention to the user experience.   But time was of the essence and things were moving so quickly that any discussion of “user experience” was overshadowed by the necessity of getting the project completed on time.  In addition, due to a limited budget, formal user testing was not an option.

Around this time, I happened to be readingUndercover User Experience Design (Voices that Matter) and had just reached the chapter titled “Testing with Users.”  Serendipity!  In this chapter, the author emphasizes simple solutions for conducting user testing when it is not a formal part of your design and development process.

So, taking this advice, I simply walked across the hall from my office and asked one of the potential users of this application to help me test it.  She happily agreed to be my guinea pig and a time was set up for the testing.  I invited one of the project managers to this first user-testing event and we were both in awe of what occurred.

User testing results:

User testing results

The project manager and I subsequently concluded that functionality and design changes were needed. Using the information obtained during this brief user testing experience, I was able to improve upon our initial design, incorporating new user interaction features in the application. See below images for improvements.

Designers must always understand how potential users will interact with the design and underlying application. Understanding this is integral to the design process. Unfortunately, it’s an easy thing to leave out during project planning, either because of budget or time constraints or both. When this happens, it is up to the designer to advocate for some form of user testing. User testing does not have to be expensive; it can involve nothing more than simply walking out of your office and finding a couple of volunteers. It also doesn’t have to be time-consuming; our user testing experience took less than an hour from start to finish. Even if you’re a designer working with a small budget on a tight deadline, user testing can happen.

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