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User Testing of a Mobile App

Six steps to make sure your app really works for the end user.

Since I joined the Ars Futura team just two months ago, one of my first projects, with mentorship from a UX/UI designer, Ana, was to design an iOS application for Pincone. I would surely hope that by now you’ve heard about Pincone - our first product. But, if you haven't, you can read about it here. In a nutshell, it is a simple and well-designed bookmarking tool that makes it easy to share content with others.

Pincone currently exists as a fully responsive web application. With the design for the web completed, we wanted to start working on a mobile application, specifically for iOS. As we are starting from zero, we wanted to perform user testing that will help us with the design for the iOS application, as well as give us some feedback on the existing version of Pincone and how we can improve it.

User testing can be really fun, especially if you’re doing it for the first time – like me. In this article, I will show you how we went through the whole process of testing and what I learned from it.

Hand sketching out wireframes on an iPad.

What is user testing? 🤔

User testing, also known as usability testing, is a stage in the design process that identifies issues with a product by testing it with real users. Even though user testing goes as far back as 1911, the concept of usability testing as we know it today took off with personal computers being available to the general public. Since then, user experience testing has increased in importance with every technological step forward.

User testing is generally carried out during the UX design phase, before the project goes into any kind of development. That way any required changes are easier to implement during the design phase, rather than in the finished product. Furthermore, user testing can also help us identify any user needs or preferences that we did not implement.

How to perform user testing and why it’s important 👨‍🏫

User testing is valuable for a multitude of reasons.

It saves time and money, but can also increase user satisfaction and your revenue. You probably already implemented analytics that can show a part of your users' needs, but some things might not be so obvious and easy to change. That is why it is recommended to add user testing at the early stage of your project, although it can be conducted at later stages as well.

Technology changes daily, and so do user habits. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to repeat your user testing every few months with new features.

Different methods for user testing

Over the years, UX researchers have developed many techniques for testing and validating products. However, if you are not a UX expert, it can be difficult to determine the best type of research method to go for. So, let’s take a look at some of the most popular user testing methods.

  • Remote usability tests are done over the internet or the phone. During moderated remote testing, the participant and moderator are both present and can communicate back and forth. Remote testing also allows you to test large numbers of people, in different geographical areas, using fewer resources.
  • Individual in-depth interviews require the test to be completed in the physical presence of a UX moderator. Compared to remote tests, in-person tests provide extra data points, since researchers can observe and analyze body language and facial expressions. However, in-person testing is usually expensive and time-consuming.
  • Card sorting is a relatively simple technique - all you need to do is place cards with content and let users sort cards in groups and categories. As soon as the user sorts the cards, the moderator should ask them the logic based on which they sorted the given cards.
  • Eye tracking can provide you with information that is impossible to glean without the technology. This type of method can help figure out whether participants are missing key UI elements – showing which things on the screen people didn’t look at.
  • Focus groups bring together 6–9 users to discuss issues and concerns about the features of a user interface. They often bring out users' spontaneous reactions and ideas and let you observe some group dynamics and organizational issues.

Our process in 6 steps

Before the beginning of user testing, we have to decide what we want to test, how we are going to do it, and when we are going to do it. For this project we decided to go through these 6 steps:

1. Wireframes

First and foremost, we have to create wireframes that we want to show our users. There are three common types of wireframes: low fidelity, medium fidelity, and high fidelity wireframes.

Low fidelity wireframes are also known as paper wireframes and are created roughly. They do not include detailed grids, scales, or pixels, but they do include basic functions, contents, headings, etc.

Mid fidelity wireframes contain grid, scale, and pixels which makes them one of the most used wireframes among the UX/UI designers.

At last, we have high fidelity wireframes - the ones we used for this project. With more concrete shapes of UI components and real photos, this type of wireframes contains the complete blueprint of the design and it is the most accurate representation of the final design, without many colors.

After I designed the wireframes for all the fundamental screens of the application, it was time to get some feedback from Ana - my mentor. A few changes, some tidying up and we have our wireframes ready for testing!

2. Define a method for user testing

The next step is to define how we are going to carry out this testing. Before you pick a user research method, you must make several decisions about the type of testing you need based on your resources, target audience, and research objectives.

Since Pincone is still a new-ish product with a few users and because the pandemic is still in full swing, we had to choose a few people from the office who use Pincone on the web fairly often to test our wireframes and get some feedback. That said, we chose the remote usability tactic - from our colleagues' safe homes.

3. Prepare questions

Since this is my first real user testing, Ana took the lead here and came up with most of the questions. We decided to divide the questions into two sets. The first set of questions is about the general use of the web version of Pincone. For example: How often do you use Pincone? What do you miss on Picone? Is there anything you would add?, etc.

The second set of questions was about wireframes ie. the iOS version of Pincone. We wanted to see how the users would go through the planned onboarding process, add links, or change teams. Generally, we wanted to allow the user to interact with the product, while uncovering pain points within the experience.

When we were coming up with questions we had in mind that we want to avoid questions that users can answer with simple “Yes” and “No”. That’s why we wrote more open-ended questions. Open-ended questions help us gather more detailed feedback. For example, we won't ask the question “Do you like this feature?”, but instead “What do you think about this feature?”

After we had our set of questions ready, the next step was to choose our volunteers.

4. Choose users for testing

The key to choosing participants is that they represent our target audience and that they share characteristics of our typical user. Of course, for that, we need more than one user. Everyone is different, and everyone draws from different experiences so it is very important to test our product on a variety of different people.

Even though it is not recommended to conduct user testing on your colleagues, because of a potential for bias, sometimes it can bring unexpected benefits. Besides, as I said before, we are still in the middle of a pandemic and organizing user testing can be challenging right now. That is why we chose seven of our colleagues for this testing.

Considering we are creating an application for the iOS platform, we wanted at least a few of our testers to be iOS users, but for extra feedback, we picked a few Android users as well. Furthermore, we wanted both users who use the web version of Pincone regularly, and users who do not use it very often. With our list of users ready, we sent invites and spent the next week conducting user testing.

5. Interview process

As I have already mentioned, I joined the Ars Futura team just two months ago and since this is my first real user testing, my mentor - Ana took the lead here again and led most of the interviews. As we went through interviews, she gave me the chance to experience the whole process for myself and take the lead with some of the testers.

As our tester's time is as precious as ours, we decided that the interview will last around 45 minutes, but in the end, it prolonged to 60 minutes with most of them. At the beginning of the interview, we wanted to get users familiar with the whole project and what they can expect during this interview. Additionally, we asked each of them for permission to record the interview. That way we do not have to lose time taking notes while listening to them, and potentially missing some crucial information.

During the interviews, it was definitely interesting to watch how every user completes the assigned tasks differently. Also how they, by talking aloud, take us through the whole process, from beginning to the end of the given task. Some things that made complete sense to us designers, confused our application testers.

After a few days, we had finished all interviews with our participants and now it was time to analyze the results.

Mockup of one of our remote user interviews.

6. Analysis of results

Since we recorded each interview, it was easier for us to gather all the necessary information and prioritize issues that came up. The good thing about recorded testing is that you can come back and watch it again, as many times as you want. Every time you can see something new, e.g. how much time it took for a user to find a specific button or how lost a user was while solving the task.

In the end, we created a document with feedback from every user that participated in our test. From there, we could easily see a clear picture of all the potential issues as well as observations.

After this user testing, we gathered enough feedback to start improving the design of our iOS application and make some improvements for the web version of Pincone.

Conclusion

Although hearing something is missing in your design can sometimes be hard, I keep in mind that this is how I am going to grow as a designer - learning from my own mistakes. I am excited about the possibility to prepare and moderate additional rounds of usability testing and refine my moderating skills. All in all, this first experience was definitely beneficial for me and I can’t wait for the next one!

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