Usability testing on a budget by Jenny Lardh

In the sixth of a series of UX blogs, Triad UX consultant Jenny Lardh explains how Usability Testing can be done on a budget.

When developing a service, product or process, it’s easy to have an ‘ideal’ way of how you want to move through the cycle of development. We want to do A before we do B and feel finished with a section before moving to the next. However, my UX experience is that moving from A to B can often be a luxury. In any project, there are constraints. Let’s look at two recent examples that I faced.

Insufficient users

On one project, my role was to take product development through its alpha phase. It was an eight-sprint project with two weeks per sprint. I planned to perform usability testing throughout every stage. However, there was one problem. I wouldn’t be given any users to work with until sprint seven. So how do I ensure that the development is moving in the right direction if I don’t have users to test the product?

Insufficient budget

On a different project, we were engaged by a client to enhance the user experience for their intranet.  Ideally, a project like this would consist of a discovery phase and a prototyping and testing phase before we implement the changes. However, usability testing can be both time consuming and expensive and this client was under time pressure and budget limitations.

So how do we move forward when the user resource you need simply isn’t available? What can we cut back on without overly compromising the value we bring to our clients?

Discount Usability Testing

Discount Usability Testing is what the name suggests. It’s discounted. It’s cheaper, quicker and can be utilised early in the design cycle or during the implementation phase. I find that it performs well in an Agile setting.

The term Discount Usability Testing is credited to Jakob Nielsen. Until fairly recently, usability testing was perceived as an expensive and time-consuming practise, resulting in UX Designers only being hired by multimillion dollar organisations and avoided in smaller companies. This is however a misconception, as Nielsen set out to prove.

Discount Usability Testing methodologies include; ‘Think Aloud’ sessions, ‘Card sorting’, and my favourite, ‘Heuristic Evaluations’. Some of these methods can be used with either a small number of users or no users. And some can be used in a survey that can be sent to 100 people rather than an entire 1-hour long usability testing session with only one user. The beauty of this methodology is that we can use the method most suitable for the project we are currently evaluating. It will help us over humps, constraints and blockers without impacting too much of the value.

Discount Usability Testing – It’s not perfect

Now, I say “without impacting too much” because Discount Usability Testing has flaws.  It is better at identifying superficial problems rather than in-depth, fully analysed issues. There are also people who will argue that some of these methods will only find the minor problems, which might be down to a matter of ‘taste’ rather than actual usability issues, and in doing so, create a ‘false alarm’.

The important thing to remember is to work with your client, identify their expected outcome and determine what action is required to deliver their expectations within the restricted parameters you are being asked to work to.  Use the methods that will give you the best outcome based on the expectations, timeframe and constraints.

Discount Usability Testing – One for your toolbox?

Discount Usability Testing is a tool for your toolbox and something I would recommend experimenting with if you are unfamiliar with it. Used correctly, these methods can bring value to your client whilst still balancing your project through its constraints and blockers. The more experience you get as a UX Designer, the better you will know what methods you want to perform, what you can do, what’s most suitable and what aligns best with the client’s expectations, needs and constraints.

We hope that you have found this blog useful. If you are interested in UX or have a question for the Triad UX team, please get in touch