Meaningful user testing on a startup budget

User testing, one of the core fundamentals of a great product. Iterative learning at it’s finest. It’s akin to ordering a triple scoop ice-cream, but painstakingly choosing one flavor at a time for the perfect combination.

Our heads are down here at Corilla and we’re looking at early-stage User Testing, which means deliberately examining our offering and ensuring each and every element has the users’ best interests in mind. We’re walking on the holy ground of User Experience (UX) Design.

A quick tangent on UX Design

With a background in Interaction Design (IXD), User Interface Design (UI) and Frontend Development I know how to design and build scalable interfaces. However, I’m also one of those fellows who will argue that UX is too often misunderstood or misinterpreted. I’ve heard the term come up when choosing typefaces, grid choices and iconography decisions. None of these are meaningful (in my opinion) when talking about true UX. They may add to the overall experience of a product, but as far as I’m concerned these things fall into UI, which is but one tiny element within UX and doesn’t shape the product itself.

The golden rule to test if something is UX focussed? UX don’t need no computer.

User Research, Personas, UATs with scenarios, Customer Validation…this is the real meat of a product and a great indicator whether your company will live or die. Keep to pencils and you’ll be fine (I hold no guarantee that this golden rule is, in fact, golden).

The cost of avoiding or ignoring User Testing

If you don’t understand your users you will build a product they don’t want or can’t use. Not having a clear understanding of your personas or target audience will ensure your messaging is confusing and verbose. Not testing your product in real-world scenarios early? Say goodbye to a good customer intake.

There’s hope though. You see, from CEO to engineer everyone has a role to play.

Right now Corilla is a team of two. The always raucous David Ryan as Managing Director and me, Ben Wilkinson (starring as myself) as Creative Director. Throw in all the normal burdens of starting out as a new company, the thrill of an accelerator (we love you NUMA) and the stress of affording things, like, food… and where do you find time to run meaningful user testing scenarios?

Not with the product as it stands, that’s for sure. We need to learn *before *we code or the lessons have been for mute.

Wireframing the experience and marrying it to the technology

Right now we’re in the midst of User Testing our interactive wireframes (yep, the wireframes), whilst we continue to build out the functionality of the product itself. This separation of what the product can do, and how it should be done seems alien at first, but let me explain.

While at Red Hat the core product was tried and tested and came up on top. Large companies are crying from the rooftops for more manageable documentation and publishing tools. These two things are solid in our minds, but we still need to learn how to take a product designed internally for one company, and craft it into a solution for a variety of different use cases.

The best way to do that is to strip the product down to the barebone wireframes and have one-on-one sessions with real-world users. It’s still early days (we got some face time with Fiodor Tonti, ex-EA Games QA Tester and now UX Expert for Google Launchpad) but more sessions are locked down throughout the next couple of weeks. After each session we’ll sit down and ensure it’s still within our core focus, quickly iterate the set of wireframes and get out of the office once more.

This is User Testing on a budget and it’s a great way to stay on point with what you’re offering whilst making quick, cheap and calculated adjustments. For the record, this is UX.