How to Test UX Design: UX Discovery and Validation
A good user experience can be the difference between a widely adopted application and one that ends up getting passed over. The effort that goes into designing UX is, therefore, an essential part of creating a new software product.
It’s worth taking action at several points both before and during development to make sure the UX design is on track. Ideally, the app will solve a real problem for users, and do so in a way that suits their needs. Two processes have a critical role to play in testing and optimizing UX: discovery and validation.
Discovery and Validation: What Are They?
While discovery and validation have a similar end goal — making sure a product suits users’ needs and preferences — they occur at different parts of the design and development process. Due to this major divergence, discovery and validation are carried out with their own practices and have their own ideal follow-ups.
- UX discovery occurs before development begins. This is the process of determining what users need from an application, and where the product fits into the marketplace. It should begin without too many preconceptions about what form the software will take. Designers may find that their concept changes significantly during this process.
- UX validation happens once there is a usable prototype of an application. This process is about testing the usability of the application and making sure users are getting real value out of it as it is currently conceived. The results from the tests carried out at this step will tell designers whether they should retool the product.
The combination of discovery and validation will ideally lead to applications that service a distinct audience, solve a real problem and offer a positive experience, encouraging users to keep engaging. A lack of these processes, on the other hand, cause developers to release apps that don’t serve a useful function, with the result being low adoption rates or negative feedback.
With the stakes so high for discovery and validation, it’s worth taking a more detailed look at these processes, as well as the best ways to carry them out and the results designers should be seeking.
UX Discovery: Objectives and Ideal Outcomes
The goal of the discovery phase is twofold. Designers have to make sure their intended product is going to solve a real problem and be the right tool to address that problem for a specific audience. Companies should start with a problem — if they begin with a solution idea already in mind, the discovery phase can’t reach its full potential shaping the product to come.
While it’s ideal to move through discovery relatively quickly — after all, the project can’t really begin until the phase is done — it’s important to be comprehensive. It’s better to get a well-designed solution on the market in 8 months than to launch an unused product after 3 months.
Coming out of the discovery phase, companies will have identified a problem and an audience, and have concepts about how to solve that issue. Designers may have two or three options worth developing further once they’ve done their research. From here, they can start creating prototypes.
It’s important to note that sometimes, the results from the discovery phase will indicate that the company should change its plans entirely, scrapping the project or creating something completely out of line with early expectations. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and reallocating the resources based on solid research is a far better outcome than continuing the development of a solution that doesn’t have a product-market fit.
UX Discovery: Steps and Best Practices
UX discovery should proceed from a close to a blank-slate perspective. It’s important for organizational stakeholders to have limited input at this point, to avoid steering the project in a solution-driven direction too early rather than leading with a problem. Designers should:
- Identify a problem: What is an issue that could be resolved with a new product that the company is capable of developing? This question forms the crux of the project.
- Narrow down an audience: No application will be for everyone. Choosing a target audience will help with UX design decisions in both the near and long term.
- Make hypotheses regarding audience needs: With the audience and problem established, it’s time to come up with potential solution ideas.
- Test those hypotheses: Designers must solicit feedback from target audience members about whether the design concept is on the right track. If the results come back negative, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
The best practices of discovery are largely focused on letting the process lead to truthful results, rather than allowing it to be shaped by outside forces such as the pressure to create a certain type of solution. Making sure that the final design addresses a real problem for a real audience is essential, especially for small and medium companies that can’t afford to spend on a project that doesn’t get results.
Getting to those results means keeping internal stakeholders as hands-off as possible, and it should also shape the way designers poll their audiences about their wants and needs. In some cases, respondents to surveys will simply ask for a slightly better version of an existing solution, whereas a truly different product would actually solve their problem more effectively. To prevent such a result, the problem should always be the focus during discovery.
UX Validation: Objectives and Ideal Outcomes
Since validation takes place further into the design process than discovery, there will be real prototypes to test. The primary objective here is a modified version of the goal of discovery. It’s still about solving a problem in the most effective way possible, but now users can actually see how the product performs.
The chosen audience reviewing the application at these stages should reflect the users who the product was designed to serve — they should be dealing with the problem that was identified back in the discovery stage.
The validation process should take place for each iteration of an application. After getting a round of validation feedback, the designers make tweaks to the UX and try again. Ideally, at the end of the process, the piece of technology will solve the problem while being a pleasure to use.
Sometimes, the validation step can be relatively short. If the current version of the application is well-targeted to solve a problem, and the UX functions well, a few rounds of minor tweaks should suffice. In other cases, more extensive revisions will be necessary. As long as organizations get the right end result, an application that solves their targeted problem, these iterations are worth pursuing.
UX Validation: Steps and Best Practices
The steps of UX validation carry a process of hypothesis verification that began in discovery. The framework laid down earlier regarding the targeted problem and the ideal audience is picked up in validation. At this stage, designers should:
- Pick the right audience segment: The users testing an app for the validation process shouldn’t just match demographic criteria. They should be people dealing with the exact problem the product is meant to address.
- Develop relevant testing criteria: Every app is different, so the ideal usability testing method will depend on how the product is meant to work. It’s important to make sure the tests reflect how users are really interacting with the solution, rather than just what they think about it.
- Interpret the results holistically: With the data in hand, designers can get to work considering ideal changes for their software. It’s important to follow the data, rather than being led by assumptions.
- Iterate and repeat: Once changes have been implemented, designers can release a new prototype and see how users react. Once users are consistently getting value from the solution and enjoying the UX, it is ready for a wider release.
Sometimes, selecting a target audience for validation is easy — designers can find test subjects among friends and family. In other cases, when an app solves a niche problem, it may have to be more creative. For instance, finding users about to buy a car may involve canvasing auto dealerships.
Once the feedback comes in from those tests, the changes needed could be minimal, or extensive. It’s best practice to be guided by the results, not after what they indicate. In some cases, 50% of a UX may have to change between one round of validation and the next. While this may seem excessive at the time, the results can be worth it.
Working with Design and Development Experts for Discovery or Validation
In the context of the overall design and development process, discovery and validation are too important to ignore. These stages can represent the difference between an app that users love to use and one that confuses or disappoints them.
Organizations that bring in external design experts can boost their discovery and validation processes. Collaborating with experienced professionals on these steps is a way to handle them confidently and get results that will enhance the finished products immeasurably.
Contact Transcenda today to find out how we can contribute to your design and development efforts.