User Testing 101: 5 Tips to get you started.

This is for all the UX Designers out there who make neat stuff, but haven’t been able to test their designs on real people; The ones that are made from flesh and blood.

Lo-fi picture of User Testing, with real users! (source: me)

Start taking User Testing seriously, it makes all the difference. User Testing may seem time-consuming and costly at first, but it’s really valuable to get feedback from your actual users. With the acquired feedback you get insight into that what you’ve designed at an early stage in the process. This can save time, money and frustration and will improve your product in the end. The outcome of a day of User Testing is the answer to the following question; Is the product actually interacting the way you want it to interact?

So, with help from the three sentences above, I obviously convinced you to start doing User Testing ;) So what is it and how do you do it?

Nielsen, J. was ahead of its time and described User Testing in 1994 as ‘’a technique used in user-centered interaction design to evaluate a product by testing it on users. This can be seen as an irreplaceable usability practice, since it gives direct input on how real users use the system.’’ (Nielsen, J. (1994). Usability Engineering, Academic Press Inc, p 165)

Okay, makes sense right? Let’s get practical!

Nielsen, J. — Holding the mouse like a User Testing Pro (source:

I’ve cooked 5 short tips for you, do whatever you want with it.

1. Keep your tasks simple and keep your focus at one task at a time

User Testing is something you probably won’t do everyday (because money), and therefore it can be tempting to ask everything that comes into mind in one session. Don’t do that, please.

User Testing works when you have a clear goal in mind, it’s okay to have a couple of goals. Goals can be be translated in questions or tasks. But, keep each task clear and simple.

The user will probably see your product for the first time and will be overwhelmed when the interviewer just keeps on asking new questions. Prepare 5 or 6 questions, put them under your pillow and get a good night of sleep. Read them again in the morning and check if they are still ok. It’s important to make sure that the questions are in line with the scope of your User Test. If so, share them with your colleagues and ask for their feedback. If you’re still a bit unsure, just put them under your pillow for another night.

Clarity is key in the case of User Testing. If you are not sure what you want to ask, how can you expect to receive clear answers from your users?

2. Never be vague

This one is in line with the first tip. Your tasks should be simple, with a focus on one task at a time. Therefore, please, don’t be vague in your questioning.

A question like, ‘So, what do you think of the app?’, won’t lead to any clear answers, because this question will result in a vague opinion and those opinions don’t matter when conducting User Testing.

3. Don’t be biased: your own opinion doesn’t matter

If you start to conduct user tests you are brave. Basically, people will be going to roast the hell out of your product. The product you’ve put your heart and thoughts in and designed with passion.

But it’s okay to get roasted, it’s part of being a designer. Somewhere on the internet I’ve read an article which mentioned that the best designs consist of 10% of the designers’ work, and 90% of other people’s input. I have no clue whether that statement is correct or not, but it does make sense right?

4. Keep your focus on what people do, not on what people say

This is a very practical one. People like to talk, and people like to lie as well.

When someone says ‘A’, it might be more than possible that they actually mean ‘B’. And that’s okay in real life sometimes, but when you’ve invited them to your User Test and asked them to share their thoughts on a product you designed, it’s not what you want.

That’s why there are some smart people on this planet who have developed Eye tracking. I wouldn’t say it’s the main reason for them to develop Eye tracking, but we can use this technique to our benefit, so we’re doing that.

Eye tracking is a tool that keeps track of the eye movements in realtime. It makes it possible to check where the user is looking at during the interview. My advice is to focus on the eye movement of the user and gain valuable information. Of course, also keep your ears open to what the user has to say.

Bonus: Make it mandatory for the client to be present during User Testing.

I know I promised 5 tips so tip number 5 shouldn’t be a bonus one…


From my own humble experience this is by far the most important tip.

If you’re working at an agency you know that keeping up a good relationship with your clients can be tricky. Inviting them to a day of User Testing (where respondents roast their product) makes them feel they are really involved in the process and it gives them a lot of insight in the necessity of these tests. Also for them, it can be a real eye opener to see what real users have to say about their brand / product / tone of voice. More importantly, it helps building a stronger relationship with your client.

That’s it.

Freelance Creative

ps. I don’t claim to be an expert in User Testing, this is just my own view on the topic. Feel free to share your thoughts on this story below.



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Do Kriek

Do Kriek

Freelance Designer based in Amsterdam.