Traditionally, usability testing has been a long, expensive process—and time-consuming research processes can result in bottlenecks that hurt the effectiveness your usability studies. In UX research, a bottleneck is a situation in which one or several components or resources are limiting the performance or capacity of the entire research process. Bottlenecks cause inefficiencies and delays in turning user feedback into measurable results. Such issues typically happen when there is high demand for research, an overworked research team, and a limited budget; deadlines are tight, communication is poor, and there is a lack of focus on actionable data.
Such research bottlenecks can hurt the entire organization. When dealing with a long, complex project for which testing and results take a long time to complete, UX researchers often feel overworked or defeated. If bottlenecks persist, the business tends to deprioritize research or skip the process altogether, instead relying on people’s personal opinions and incomplete data.
The good news is that, with the creation and implementation of rapid usability testing, we can reduce research bottlenecks or even eliminate them entirely. In this article, I’ll cover what rapid usability testing is, why it can be a valuable tool, the costs of slow usability testing, and how rapid usability testing can eliminate research bottlenecks.
Rapid Usability Testing
Rapid usability testing works in much the same way as traditional testing, but reduces the duration of the testing process by replacing it with dedicated user panels and a platform that provides rapid user insights. There are a few platforms that can provide qualitative and quantitative data in less than an hour, eliminating research bottlenecks and enabling organizations to make great decisions with confidence—decisions that are based on user feedback.
Today, there is a major gap between the way teams create their design concepts and how they learn from users. Obtaining usability data generally takes days or weeks, with lengthy in-person interviews or focus groups. Through unmoderated, remote testing, teams can gather the same high-quality feedback in a fraction of the time.
Rapid usability testing usually occurs remotely, on a dedicated platform, with a small sample of participants. It lets you understand the effectiveness of designs and gather participants’ feedback to educate your subsequent design decisions. This type of usability testing requires a flat design, an online testing tool, a research method, and analysis. Smaller teams need to test with only a small sample to discover what elements have the greatest impact, identify usability problems, and validate design decisions. Using remote-testing tools and flat designs, your team can gather data in minutes, even if you’re a team of one.
The Importance of Rapid Usability Testing Early in the Design Process
In recent years, the product-development process has changed. Its focus is no longer on what the business wants to accomplish, but all about the users and their experiences. Many organizations have also adopted a Lean or agile process to get their concepts to market faster. The issue is that lengthy, traditional usability research doesn’t fit well into a Lean or agile process. Researchers need to gather feedback fast to make quick design changes and optimize their resources for the target audience.
New methods of rapid usability testing have eliminated the need for six-month-long research projects by creating a way for teams to split their research into multiple projects, test every element of their concept, and iterate their designs fast.
Learning, failing, and adjusting lets teams build products that they know users can use and enjoy. They can understand what works, what doesn’t, and where the painpoints lie. Doing this rapidly, at a consistent pace, allows businesses to stay relevant and deliver value to their customers.
For teams that don’t employ rapid usability testing, most of the development cycle suffers from bias and decision-making that is based just on gut instinct. Plus, waiting until after launch to validate features, concepts, or designs means you’ll often run into issues or learn that you didn’t choose the best option when it’s too late to make major changes. Speed is a big competitive advantage in a world with high customer expectations and increasing competition.
The Costs of Slow Research
Today, most organizations do employ a usability-research process, leading to more dedicated research teams focusing on engaging users. However, research is frequently slow, confined in its scope, and expensive. A typical usability study takes over 100 hours to complete and costs more than $10,000. Despite having such a heavy time and budget commitment, product or design teams often have limited resources. A study from the Nielsen/Norman Group shows that the average researcher-to-designer-to-developer ratio is 1:5:50. Research from HubSpot tells us that 42% of companies fail to collect customer feedback because of the large commitment of resources that it requires.
Because of a lack of resources and the expensive process that is necessary to gather usability data effectively, many businesses choose not to perform UX research, limiting their understanding of the user experience. As a result, organizations might introduce design concepts that are completely ineffective or that don’t meet user expectations or needs. In the end, the price of launching the wrong concept can be a huge waste of resources, harm to their brand reputation, and additional costs to fix issues.
How Rapid Usability Testing Eliminates Research Bottlenecks
Gathering rapid user feedback eliminates the issues of time restrictions, overworked teams, rushing to meet tight deadlines, and a lack of insights. Often, researchers get hired or are assigned to a project after the team has already identified the final design concept. By then, it may be too late to incorporate usability data and, as a result, the final product suffers and the business loses value.
This is why companies should embrace a test early, test frequently mentality. By gathering insights more quickly, at a lower cost, they can eliminate unnecessary trade-offs and make educated decisions about designs more quickly. Most unmoderated tests require a smaller sample size, but thanks to built-in user panels, researchers can gather research from any number of participants they need. Plus, you can do testing wherever and whenever you want, using on-demand, remote, unmoderated platforms. Gathering the feedback you need can take less than an hour, giving your team more time to study, adjust, and improve design concepts. Rapid usability testing enables organizations to test early and often, conducting cost-effective, quick testing that lets them gather all the data they need to advise the product team and the business.
The findings from the usability research can help product teams make improvements to products or services and create a better user experience. Quantitative data, including completion rates, error rates, and other statistical data, can inform design decisions. In contrast, the qualitative data that you gather through rapid testing tells your team why specific elements or designs are better than others.
Research bottlenecks can drastically hurt businesses, result in ineffective research, or lead to a general of lack of investment in research projects. With all the benefits of rapid usability testing, it is clearly a valuable process that every team should add to their toolkit.
Conducting Rapid Usability Testing
At each stage of the design process, Lean and agile teams need quick access to user feedback to develop a thorough understanding of users. Everyone in the organization needs the resources to conduct usability testing and learn from participants, enabling them to meet user expectations.
Instead of launching a test and waiting days or weeks for results, rapid testing platforms provide the same valuable feedback in less time and on a smaller budget. Simply choose a platform to test on, identify your testing tasks, and start gathering real usability data. To conduct an effective usability study, your team should follow these steps:
Choose a testing platform. Many remote-testing platforms let you to gather rapid feedback. Do some research and find the platform that best fits the needs of your organization.
Choose a testing template or method. Most platforms have built-in templates that allow you to quickly design a usability test. But you’ll probably need to identify your testing goals and craft the testing tasks that you want to analyze.
Identify the audience and the number of participants necessary. The best remote-testing tools use a testing panel and offer advanced criteria and segmentation to get feedback from participants who represent your target audience. You also need to decide how many participants would give you enough feedback for statistical significance, so you can have confidence in the results.
Review and launch your test plan. The last step before launching your testing is reviewing your test plan, ensuring that all tasks are doable, you aren’t testing too many variations at once, and everything is set up to your specifications. Once you’ve reviewed and launched your plan, all you have to do is sit back and wait for the results to roll in.
Analyze your results. The final and possibly most important step in rapid usability testing is analyzing the results. Most platforms provide an easy-to-understand results dashboard that presents all the data. You can also export the data and analyze it using third-party tools. Make sure that you look at all the data, but your focus should be on qualitative feedback that would inform your design decisions and help you identify new opportunities and issues that participants have encountered.
Following these key steps when performing rapid usability testing can help a business gather actionable insights and create products that are tailored to their target audience. This process can also help mitigate or eliminate bottlenecks because the team doesn’t have to wait long for the data. Plus, the cost of conducting testing is drastically reduced.
When your organization begins a new project, plan to do some early, rapid usability testing on your design concepts. You could even do some rapid usability testing in addition to your traditional testing. When you commit to rapid testing from the start, you’ll find that product teams hit fewer roadblocks, are more dedicated to the project, and produce a better final product. Your team is more efficient, resulting in better decisions for the entire business. Testing remotely for rapid insights often reveals new ideas and identifies issues that you haven’t discovered before and might never have considered. This helps the business come up with even better products, services, and solutions.
Owen is a digital marketer at Poll the People, an emerging user-research and usability-testing platform. His focus is on content creation and moving the company forward through all digital-marketing mediums. Owen is a graduate of Bryant University, with a concentration in marketing. Read More