How to Get Great Qualitative Insights from User Testing

Every UX team should have a certified mind reader. However, mind reading certification does not exist… yet. In the meantime, UX researchers have honed in on what may be the next best thing: user testing

Ah, the art of user testing – guiding users through a journey; seeking out an alternative point of view, an understanding of how users interact with a product and gaining deeper insights into who your users are and what’s important to them. While quantitative data is always great to have, there comes a time when you need to know, “so what?” What is going on behind the scenes? Thankfully, user testing will help shine the light on these gaps in quantitative data. Furthermore, user testing is a great tool to save you from launching a product that doesn’t meet your user’s needs and expectations. So, how might we get to those real juicy insights and save ourselves the headache of launching a not-yet-affirmed product? 

1. Naming your goal.

The first and most significant details to know when preparing to administer a user test are: What’s my goal? What insights am I after? What do I plan on doing with these insights? There has to be a hypothesis behind why you’re testing. If you don’t know what you need insights on and why, you’ll find yourself fumbling around in the dark. Let’s put it this way: if you go into a user test with the mindset of, “let’s test the thing to see if it’s usable” you won’t be able to find the insights that will help drive improvements.  Once you’re able to clarify your ultimate goal as the test administrator, let that be your guiding light. All of the other information relevant to who you are testing and how you are testing them will follow. 

Aww, what should the goals’ names be?

2. Understanding your user.

Now that you have your goal sorted out, it’s time to figure out just who you are testing – hint: there’s a lot to think about here. Do you want users who use your product every day, or people who have never even heard of it? Or maybe people who land somewhere in the middle? Do you want to go after a very niche group of people for more specific insights, or a broader group for a variety of feedback? What’s crucial to know as the researcher is that everyone has their own bias and you want to know where your users stand before testing them. It’s also important to note that this one may come down to resources; sometimes you can’t find the perfect test subjects. If this is the case, it may be time to strengthen your storytelling skills and write out a descriptive scenario. 

Feeling understood is always a good thing.

3. Writing the script.

And you thought all that required Shakespeare reading in college would never lend itself to anything! With that, it’s time to set the scene. Whether you’re facilitating moderated or unmoderated user tests, this is really where it becomes time to hone in on how you’re going to get those substantial qualitative insights. 

First: Provide the user with a scenario: an inciting incident that brought them to your app or website. This helps the user get into the mindset of why they’ll be doing what you’ll be asking them to do. If you think of yourself as the playwright – writing the script – think of the users you’re testing as the actors. The scenario is the actors’ backstory. It tells them where they came from, how they got here and where they’re going. 

Second: *and this is a biggie* Give the user a primary goal. While the user travels along their journey, completing the tasks you so meticulously thought out, remind them of their goal along the way. Having an objective helps drive the user as well as helps them keep their scenario in mind, all while getting you the insights you need. 

Third: Break up the user’s journey by providing them with individual tasks. Each task that the user completes should help them get closer to their goal. These tasks are also a great way for you to test out the small interactions, or microinteractions, that the user has with the website. Later on, when you analyze these tests, pay special attention to how the user reacts to these small interactions. Does the website interact with them the way they anticipated? If not, was it a pleasant surprise, or a not-so-pleasant surprise? 

Fourth: Make sure the user thinks out loud. Yes, every thought that enters into their brain should come out of their mouth. Throughout the test the user should never stop talking. Why? Because… Every. Thought. Is. Crucial. Yes, even if the thought is, “Now I’m thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner tonight,” that means something! Did something on the website make them hungry? Is the website not interesting enough, in turn causing them to be disengaged? 

Fifth: The 5 Why’s (or honestly, maybe the 10 Why’s). Never stop asking: Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? The more you ask, the more information you get. The more information you get, the better qualitative insights you have. 

Oh, and a reminder! Avoid leading. If there’s something you have a bias towards and want to prove works (or doesn’t work), the user will sniff that out and your insights won’t be as optimal. Simply guide them along the journey and let them bring those findings to you.  

Writing the script (ok, Shakespeare!).

Getting to know your user and their interactions with a product is a win-win for all parties involved. It will save you time, save your company some money, and your user the pain of weed whacking their way through an app or website that wasn’t built with them in mind. So, next time you’re searching for a local UX mind reader, remember all you need to do is: establish a goal, understand your user, write the script, set the stage – and never stop asking questions.