Thinking you are your customer is a common mistake. Even if you fall into the category of your ideal customer, you know far too much about your product. You are unable to be impartial. And this, ladies and gentlemen is probably the biggest problem you will encounter on your journey to product success. Seriously.

So, before we begin repeat after me, 

Just because I know this app inside out, it doesn’t mean my customers will get it… and no, it doesn’t mean they’re stupid”.

Even seasoned product builders struggle with this. The best way to test this theory is to test it. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was that user testing will show you things about your software that you never imagined.

User testing - The easy way.

When we hear the phrase user testing most of us freeze on the spot. It sounds professional and frankly, a little scary. But user testing in its most basic format is as simple as grabbing a colleague on Zoom and having them run through your software.

Ideally, you'll want to invite real customers to test your software or at least people from the demographic you’re looking to serve. However, if you are at the very beginning of your product journey, your peers will be fine. This will serve to highlight any major flaws in your thinking

If you think it might be an imposition to ask strangers to test your software, or if people simply aren’t responding to your requests for feedback, offer them an Amazon (or something less evil) gift card or even a discount on your software. But in most cases, folks are more than happy to help, especially if they're excited about what you're building.

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Here are some key things to bear in mind before you run your first test session.

  • Before starting, define the goals for each session. What tasks do you want your tester to perform and why? For example, you might want to ask them how they would navigate to a certain section of your app and perform a task. As it’s a task you’ll be very familiar with, you might be surprised how others struggle to carry out basic actions. 
  • Try to include a minimum of 5 testers per goal. This will give a clearer idea of what needs to be adjusted in your app. With 5 testers you should begin to see recurring problems
  • Let your testers know that the session will be recorded. 
  • While you might be uncomfortable, make sure you are on the video call when the test is being run. Asynchronous videos are less than ideal when it comes to user testing. You’ll want to see where folks trip up, and the expressions on their face when they are unsure of something. Also, you'll want them to "think out loud", so being on the call is the preferred option.
  • If you are a sole founder/dev, don’t worry too much about whether the testers are your ideal customers. What you want to find out during the early stages is does the app work as your testers expect it to. This kind of testing can be helpful if you’re building in a bubble. However, ignore this if your software is very niche. The more niche, the more targeted your testers should be.
  • Keep things relaxed and casual. This isn’t IBM headquarters.
  • Let testers know that it’s your software that’s under the microscope, not them. They can’t do anything wrong. 
  • Ask them to talk through their actions, this way you’ll have a better idea of what they’re thinking. This helps see where they stumble, where they are unsure, or when they simply get lost.
  • Don’t give any hints (this is harder than you might think) unless they are completely stuck. In which case it’s OK to give some basic help.
  • Once the session is over thank your tester and ask where you should send the voucher/gift to. 
  • When you have a quiet period, go through the recordings and take notes on areas that were problematic for your testers. Once you have several tests under your belt, you can compare problem areas across all the sessions. Problems to pay attention to are the ones that are suffered by more than one tester. Hearing something once is not indicative of a real problem. Outliers are hard to design for and may create completely unnecessary work. 

As soon as you see that not everyone thinks like you, it will hugely increase your chances of success.

Running live user tests can be a little nerve-wracking at first, but once you get into the swing of it you'll wonder why you didn't start sooner. It's easy to create user personas and flows, but in the end, there is no substitute for getting into the mind of real users. You'll learn more in a morning of user-testing than months of theoretical study.

P.S. Bonus points for using both systems in conjunction ;)

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