The Agile Manifesto highly underlines the need for collaboration with potential customers and being flexible with changing plans. But modifying software requirements and priorities while developers are already coding, or what is even worse, are finished with the implementation, can cause significant delays as well as huge costs. We can easily imagine a situation where the entire dev team creates a working product, but at the end of the day, due to usability issues, customers are not able to perform core functionalities. It is a common issue, wherein the rush of excitement of the release of the new product or new big features product managers tend to believe that failure will not apply to them.
In order to avoid such situations, it is important to carry out a comprehensive explorative process. Using the right methodologies and tools it is possible to identify most of the usability issues and find valuable insights on customers’ behavior without writing a single line of code. The Design Squiggle illustration presented below shows that at the beginning of each project, the level of uncertainty is very high. Any approach that aims at starting the software development (coding) at this “messy” stage is a total mistake as it requires too much pivoting and changing assumptions.
This is why the role of a UX Researcher is so important in each product team. The success and timeliness of an IT product highly depend on the quality of the research and prototyping. At the explorative stage, it is crucial to learn to fail fast. It is much better to fail on the idea or a low-fidelity prototype than to waste resources, time, and finances on developing an unverified design. Let’s examine the methods of early usability testing and finding valuable insights in three stages.
Step one: Perform usability testing on sites of your competition 🔍
Even without a ready prototype, in the initial phase of product development, you could get ahead by testing competitors’ solutions! With the right target group, you gain insights on what to do better. The “Test it before you build it” approach aligns well with the Agile methodology. With a very low cost, you can already identify several usability issues without having to spend any time on designing. When you start prototyping, you already have in mind which mistakes to avoid.
Unmoderated testing solves the issue of the time-consuming nature of moderated testing at the expense of insightful data. These tests don’t require the presence of a designer and can be performed on a much larger scale. It is usually performed by dedicated software like Maze or UsabilityHub. Testers receive a link to an assessment where they have to follow some tasks and answer several survey questions. Even though automation seems to be a good solution, we lose a lot of insights and the true understanding of users’ behavior. A designer cannot ask in-depth questions and is limited with analysis to previously designed surveys.
At this stage, it is also recommended to verify the effectiveness of the information architecture of competitors’ products. By understanding your users’ online behaviors and viewing patterns you can design UX & UI that is both usable for your customers as well as meets your business objectives. Of course one may say that the process of behavior research takes a lot of time and resources. At some point it is true, but with the current AI technology, it is possible to find insights quickly. To check almost rapidly on what users pay attention, what they like and what frustrates them, the best solution is to use an emotion-reading system. With the UX Mining platform, you can create this kind of study in a completely remote formula. Simply provide addresses of sites you want to analyze, specify research questions, and send generated URL to your target group. Since our software does not require any extra hardware, you get results fast, without having to organize any meetings or setting up a usability lab.
Step two: Create a low-fidelity prototype 🔨
Prototyping is one of the most important steps in the process of creating IT solutions. Visualizing is important at every stage and could be crucial if a decision of creating a new product ought to be made. Visualization of an idea is first prototype, but already everyone can see the point of the solution. The rest of this process is continuous improvement. Prototyping on early stages allows many insights to come, such as:
- Can a solution be made?
- Are there any customers ready to pay for it?
- Are there any similar products already on the market, if so, why my solution can be better, if not, why?
- What could be the most difficult challenge in the designing process?
Prototyping in the early stages also allows us to start testing and gain insights as soon as possible. How to make a valuable low fidelity prototype? Prototyping is nothing more than evolving sketches and ideas to finally become a professional and innovative product. Low fidelity prototypes have to be a presentation of functionalities and general insights that have been gained and gathered in the process of discovery. First prototypes allow to navigate our attention to some important issues and to recognize a point of the user’s view. There are few tools that can be used to create low fidelity prototypes, in the traditional way pencil and some sticky notes would be enough, however, it’s hard to share sketches with testers and the team. Nowadays, there are many tools that make it possible to create digital prototypes like Figma, Marvel, Adobe XD or inVision.
Step three: Test your prototype! 📊
Now it’s time to test your prototype! At this stage, it is worth checking if people understand how to use your future product. By asking the right questions you can find if all the flows and instructions are intuitive and if there are any blockers. In order to make it comprehensive, so to collect both quantitative and quantitative data during research, we propose driving in-depth moderated interviews with the UX Mining Live platform, which works as a video-communicator (e.g. Zoom), but is customized especially for UX interviews. It easily integrates with prototyping tools like Figma and you can compose your own tasks and surveys. This way you can find out how people perceive your prototype, by knowing what they are looking at. You can also find various confusion/fixation points, so the moments where people were getting stuck, not understanding something or, blindly looking for information to complete a task thanks to the micro-emotion recognition system.
In this post, we showed how to perform usability testing at the very early stages of software development. Combining tools like Figma+UX Mining it is possible to find most usability issues without writing a single line of code. With the right research made, having in mind all the insights found, it is a good moment to involve the engineering team to start programming. To sum up, the main benefits of this approach are:
- Fail fast — It’s better to fail and iterate through ideas than it is to waste resources and time on changing the product while it is already developed.
- Cost cut — It saves a lot of money upfront by finding out if the product features are a good fit for particular users.
- Unbiased results — Combining qualitative survey data and emotions gives you a holistic view of your user’s behavior.
- Uncovering hidden opportunities — When you see how your users see (what attracts their attention), you can turn this information into opportunities for new features!