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What is user testing and why do startups need to make it part of the plan?

- December 1, 2014 3 MIN READ

User experience is vital to the success of any technology platform, so it would be remiss to: (a) ignore the criticism without first exploring it; and (b) shut it down and have a rebuttal for every point a user makes that rubs you the wrong way.

Objection handling is for sales and should never be used in UX (User Experience) discussions. Unfortunately it is, way too often.

I totally get it as well. Somebody saying something that does not praise what you have been working long and hard on is kind of the equivalent to telling a new parent they have an ugly baby. Nobody likes to hear it.

Unlike the latter, hearing you have ‘ugly’ design, clunky navigation, or a confusing overall experience is vital to you being successful. It can make or break your business.

Last year, Sydney based coworking space WeCo held a usability testing night for startups. I went along to observe and it was pretty eye opening – especially because there were a number of professional usability testers at the event and they were pretty direct with their feedback. In fact, it was refreshing and for the most part, simple changes such as the placement of a ‘button’ or the colour of a ‘buy now’ call to action have had a significant impact on traction for the tech ventures that were involved in the night.

One of the first things we at Startup Daily do when interviewing or writing about a startup is give the product a whirl. It often frames the types of technical questions we will ask the founders when we speak to them. I am constantly surprised at the number of startups that have not engaged professional testers or at least put the product out there for feedback from open Facebook groups like Sydney Startups, Melbourne Startups or even communities that exist around blogs such as Usabilitygeek.com to attain some top level feedback on their product either pre-Beta or during the Beta phase.

I would even be as bold to say that just based on my interviews (and remembering I have interviewed at least one startup a day since January 2012), 65 out of every 100 of them have shut up shop or failed to gain any significant global traction during or immediately after the initial beta phase because the founders failed to collect valuable UX intel on their own product at a time when people would have been more than happy to be critical and give it to them straight. That is what beta, closed or open is for – data collection that helps a founder tweak the product for commercial scalability.

When it comes to usability testing in Australia, price point for soon to launch startups is a major consideration. Many businesses in Australia that currently offer UX feedback services such as User Testing Australia, Access Testing and Web Usability are not quite within ‘startup’ price points and further to that all have a horrible UI (User Interface) that would never be conducive to a startup even wanting to use their services.

However, recently, Elance-oDesk have enhanced the exposure given to usability testers on its platform, and this is a big win for local startups.

One startup founder that Startup Daily spoke to said that engaging with usability testers via this platform offered them a couple of key benefits:

  • They were able to engage with testers from multiple countries directly
  • They were able to implement fixes suggested and re-engage with the exact same testers, whereas other larger companies can not guarantee that.
  • They were able to determine small details that mattered by country, such as wording, pricing and small design preferences.

“Every time we make any significant changes to our platform we engage testers via oDesk.com now, it has allowed us to expand into the US market at a much quicker rate than what we would have done, without first tweaking our UX”.

Quite often startups mistake ‘nobody complaining’ about the technology as an interpretation of everybody being happy with it. As Michael Wong states in his blog Great Web Design Tips, people won’t go out of their way to complain about something on the internet until you have outraged them:

If you want a great Web site, you must test its usability. Just because no one has complained about your site doesn’t mean that all your visitors are using your site effectively, efficiently and to their full satisfaction.

Visitors won’t make the effort to complain unless you have outraged them in some way, or have provided an easy way for them to get in touch with you from every page about the problems they may be having.

At the heart of Australia’s startup UX feedback issue is our failure to recognise the amount of prep work that has gone into the Australian ‘media darling’ tech stories we read every day.

One of the reasons you see startups like TinyBeans and Canva scaling so quickly around the globe is because these companies have invested time and money into relentlessly testing and refining the product and its features. We need to seriously skip the short cut attitude when it comes to creating products in Australia and proactively seek more feedback – it’s core to a strong startup ecosystem.