Every UX Designer will, at some stage in their career, work on a project where a key stakeholder will ask them to design a solution without verifying the result with the intended user.
The exact rationale will vary, but it will generally boil down to objections about two key resources: time and money. If you find yourself in this position, you have a choice: you can shrug your shoulders and hope your design intuition has served you well, or you can work out a way to get feedback from your users despite the hurdles placed in your path.
The best designers I’ve worked with will not take ‘No’ for an answer when it comes to testing their designs, but this doesn’t need to start a war with your key stakeholders. A quick “pressure test” will reveal whether you’re able to change their mind. If you simply can’t win them over, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.
Any feedback is better than no feedback
There is plenty of advice out there stressing the fact that testing with the wrong users is a cardinal sin, and there is an element of truth to this. However, the reality is that most of us aren’t working on a niche product aimed at 75-year-old smartphone-wielding goat herders. Most of us are designing solutions for ordinary people, and chances are we (or one of our colleagues, friends, or family) will know someone who fits the right profile.
And if you are designing a service for 75-year-old tech-savvy shepherds, grab a few people you know who most closely fit that profile and test anyway. Take the feedback with a grain of salt if you must, but I guarantee you’ll learn something of value.
Just observing how people use your solution can provide all kinds of important feedback. in particular whether some aspect of your design is working or not. As a designer, you’ll have areas of your design that you are worried or curious about—get people to use these parts of the design! You’ll satisfy your curiosity and get the chance to improve on areas that make you feel uncomfortable.
Remember, there is no such thing as bad feedback. Approach each feedback session as an opportunity to learn which parts of your design work, and which ones don’t work and need improvement. Even the best designers can improve on their designs with a little feedback from users.
Recruiting users without time or money
So your project has no time or money built into it to get formal feedback? Never mind—just get informal feedback instead. It costs less, and takes less time too.
Here are some tips for soliciting participants:
- Send an email to a few people in the office specifying the type of user you’re really after, and see if anyone knows someone who fits the profile.
- Put a message on Facebook or Twitter (as long as the product development isn’t confidential).
- Make a few phone calls to friends and family. Friends and family will generally be receptive to helping out, so calling in some favours should produce a handful of people with enough spare time to take part in a feedback session.
Be sure to thank participants for their input and reward them as best you can. Beg, borrow, steal, and hoard—well, maybe don’t steal. Keep a drawer full of vouchers; buy them coffee or a beer—whatever works best for you. I’ve found in the past that sometimes just the opportunity to catch up for a chat and to get a peek at what it is you do for a living is all the thanks required.
So what are you waiting for?
As I’ve demonstrated here, soliciting user feedback on your design needn’t be timely or expensive, so you have no excuse not to do so. Drop everything and spend a day—or even half a day—testing your designs. Your absence from the office would have no greater impact than if you’d taken a sick day.
In fact, taking a “sick day” to do some user testing may be the best way to actually get the feedback you need …