Why are you not testing yet?!

Did you test your product this week? Last week? Last month? Never? One of the best things you can do for your design process and the product you're designing is to test it. But why?

I've been part of many product teams that were tasked to build a feature first, uber-polished product. When you build a product idea from a feature list and ignore any form of external feedback, your product is going to experience unneeded turbulence. You the designer, the product owner, or maybe a client are going to wonder what went wrong? Sometimes the question ‘what went wrong?’ leads to more features instead of trying to fix the problem. Sometimes the decision to test your product is made too late.

Designers in general are problem solvers. We take abstract ideas, break them down to comprehensive concepts, plan a path of execution, then we deliver. That path of execution should always consider user testing. A client or product team may put user testing into the product plan, but testing is something intangible that gets postponed or pushed entirely to spend more time building the product.

My main reason for not testing all these years was one part anxiety related apprehension, and one part expectations of senior leaders to make the moves for me. While it can be tough to overcome anxiety, it’s certainly good practice to take initiative and schedule user testing yourself. Test early and test often. At the earliest chance, you should be taking a rudimentary prototype to external users and getting feedback. It’s so easy it’s silly.

So why is testing so good?

Chances are, you are not the target market for the product you’re working on. It’s okay to make assumptions about what kinds of users might use your product, where they work, how they might use your UI, or their level of technical ability, but relying on assumptions is a problematic tactic. Testing reveals the biases you designed into the product. Testing helps find unseen usability issues. Testing narrows your product scope. Testing helps determine your product market fit.

According to Steve Krug and his seminal book Rocket Surgery Made Easy, all it takes is 5 testers to coax out the issues with your product. It seems rather silly and such a low number, but you’d be surprised. After 3 testers you learn what the main pain points are, and by 5 you’ve confirmed those points are a common issue. Those issues should be what your team address in the following days – then you design and test again.

By waiting until your product is "ready to test" (meaning polished and ready for market) you’ve undoubtedly spent too much time in a wrong direction or built a product with unseen usability issues. Why waste time and money – oh so much money – by resting on your assumptions? Real world feedback is the best form of confirmation that you’re on to something.

So get out there and test it!
(Then come back, fix it, and go test again).

I’ll be following up this piece with best steps for simple, fast, and effective user testing.