Users: In the midst

At Boomworks we love talking to the real users of what we’re developing.  We believe usability testing in particular is necessary to give our designs a reality check and discover how users think and behave. Our usability lab has given us hours of useful user information and for a while now we have experimented with various approaches to test all types of devices as we are increasingly designing cross-device solutions.  Renae and Fred have written about lab testing mobile and tablets earlier in “Internet, we have a BoomSled“ and “Take two tablets, see you in the recording“.

While great feedback comes out of lab testing, sometimes it’s valuable to get out of the comfort and cosiness of the lab and go out into the wild to re-create those real life situations and conditions where the interface is used – especially when designing a mobile solution.

Guerilla style user testing is a fast, low cost way to do just that. You simply go out in public to a spot where potential users hang out and start grabbing people walking past asking for their feedback on your design.  Sounds easy right? Well, guerilla testing might not be right for all projects, and it may not be as rigorous as lab testing.  You won’t have the same carefully selected breadth of personas, and you won’t have the same ability to record the session.  On the flip side you get away with less admin, set up and scheduling that tends to eat up time and money. Best of all you get to test the design in the user’s natural environment.

I’d been waiting to find a suitable project to take my testing out to the streets and finally got the perfect candidate when YHA Australia asked us to redesign their mobile booking site. The project had a very limited timeline so we quickly mocked up a clickable prototype, grabbed our smartphones and headed down to one of their busy hostels in the middle of Sydney.  Here we had access to a large amount of potential users in a constrained area, and their state of mind were ideal for realistic tests;  distracted, jet lagged etc.

We set up a bar table in the reception area and made sure we were there at check in time to access as many travellers as possible. When testing in our usability lab we usually give out cash to participants, but with the informal setting of guerilla testing we found that the chocolate we had raided from the Boomworks cupboards was an appropriate and appreciated incentive.

Results exceeded our expectations. We tested with 7 users over a couple of hours leaving us enlightened about how backpackers and travellers would like to search and book accommodation. We got lots of valuable feedback on the prototype that we took back to the studio to finish off the designs.

I’ve never felt entirely comfortable handing over a design that has never been tested with real users, but unfortunately in our industry it happens that there are simply no time and money to go through a round of lab testing. In those cases guerilla testing is a cheap and fast alternative, and you still get high quality feedback.

We would love to hear if you have any experience with guerilla testing or if there are other techniques you use to test your designs when time and money lacks.

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