6 Tips for Rapid, Remote Testing During the Design Process

Rapid testing is the key to building products based on your target audience’s feedback and, by extension, preference.

Jonathan Widawski
Jonathan Widawski
Apr 12, 2021
Min Read

As designers, we all know that testing early and often during the design process is key. Yet how many of us actually have the time and resources to do this? While the design industry has been championing the human-centered approach to design for a long time, the tools available to us to test often haven’t caught up.

When it comes to building user-centric products, there’s often a disconnect between the way we build and learn from users. Why? Because access to user insights and learnings has been slow and ineffective—watching hours of recorded interviews to extract valuable learnings does not yield actionable insights fast enough. 

Most of us work in fast-paced environments that require us to juggle different aspects of a design project simultaneously, so activities like research and testing end up on the back burner.  

As the CEO and co-founder of Maze, a testing platform for product and design teams, and previously Lead UX designer working with clients like McKinsey, PSG, and Rocket Internet, I know first-hand how difficult it is to run user testing as much as we’d want to.

To solve this concern and help you design products that solve real user needs, we’ve created the Rapid Testing Framework. In this piece, we’ll tell you all about it and give you 6 tips to get the rapid testing ball rolling. 

Why Testing Should Happen Early and Often During the Design Process

Good design is all about its users—how easy it is to navigate (functionality) and how successful it is in keeping users on the page (good aesthetics with minimal distractions). However, it’s next to impossible to create such a user-centric design that satisfies customers without getting feedback and testing early and often in the design process.

Essentially, early testing helps you:

  • Identify design problems early on before any issues become an intrinsic part of your design.
  • Prioritize and solve identified design issues before moving further into your process. In other words, iterating your design as you work on it.
  • Reduce the cost of rework, which can be 100x for fixing an issue later on than working on it during the development stage. 

Iterating your design rapidly also saves you time. Robert N. Charette writing in the IEEE Spectrum, reports programmers spend 40-50% of their time on avoidable rework. That’s almost half of your team’s time! Imagine how much time you can have up your sleeve simply by testing early and often.

Of course, by saving time and reducing the cost of rework, early testing makes its case for increased return on investment. Helen Tsvirinkal, product designer at Shopify, says, “The return on investing time into testing early is very high compared to the time you could spend working with your own assumptions.”

Test and Learn With the Rapid Testing Framework

The need for testing early and often in the design process brings us to rapid testing, which involves testing all design decisions from ideation to release. In doing so, you remove the guesswork that goes into designing digital products by getting user insights every step of the way.

Rapid testing is a decision-making framework wherein all product and design decisions are made with user input. The benefits of this, you ask? There are two chief benefits of the Rapid Testing Framework:

  • Making data-informed design decisions: So there’s no working based on assumptions–only building and releasing what’s already been validated.
  • Building institutional knowledge: With time, as the information learned compounds, designers develop a sound understanding of the target audience and the product space. This, in turn, helps you design better products that customers love.

6 Tips For Rapid, Remote Testing

To put all this theory into action, let’s walk you through 6 tips for successful rapid testing:

1. Identify Your Goal

To start, pinpoint exactly what you want to test. Having this goal gives your test a direction.

You can better tell what questions to ask users and understand the outcomes you’re looking to achieve from the user test.

For example, you could set a goal to find out if your design is easy to use. Having this goal makes it clear that you’ll need to conduct usability tests to determine your target users’ ease of use.

Once you’re clear about what you’re looking for, determine the benchmarks or metrics to test your ideas against. For the example above, this could mean testing your design’s ease of use against your previous design or competitor’s design. This means setting goals for the usability metrics you want to achieve with your new design, e.g., 80% of your test participants complete the tasks successfully. 

2. Define Key Stages During the Process

While it’s good to set the objective to test early and often in your design, you need to determine specifics to get the Rapid Testing Framework to work.

Ideally, it’s helpful to conduct the following tests:

  • Idea or concept validation: The goal is to test your ideas, so you work on a user-validated one.
  • Low-fidelity or formative testing: These are wireframe tests that you conduct at the early stages of the design process with users. Keep in mind that you can conduct several tests, and test anything from the information architecture layout to the user flow and content.
  • High-fidelity prototype or summative testing: Finally, conclude with testing the final design with a high-fidelity prototype to ensure there are no errors or issues before hand-off. 

In doing so, you’re testing each design decision from start to finish by keeping your users in the loop from when your design is in its ideation stage to when the high-fidelity prototype is ready.

3. Find Test Participants Early

Instead of looking for test participants at the last moment, consider pooling relevant participants early on. Not only will this save you time, but it’ll also preserve your workflow.

Here are three sources for recruiting test participants:

1. Recruit loyal customers as test participants

If your product already has an audience, you’ll find this method to onboard test participants particularly helpful. Since your customers are already familiar with your product, they’re in a good position to offer feedback on new features, in-app tweaks, or product updates.

Start by asking your customer success, service, and sales team to connect you with loyal customers who’d be interested in helping improve your product. Then, go on to create a WhatsApp group, Slack channel, or Facebook group to pool participants’ feedback on your design decisions.

For instance, here at Maze, we created a Customer Advisory Board of over 90 customers who share their feedback with us on new and existing product features.

2. Go to pre-established communities for finding the right test participants

There are tons of communities out there that host your target audience. For example, if you’re targeting a community of readers, you can find several groups on Facebook with your target audience. The same is true for Slack and Reddit hosting several communities.

So how do you find these communities? Head over to Google and search for "name of community + forum"

As for finding your target audience on specific platforms, take the following steps:
Slack: Go to Slofile, an online database of Slack communities, to find your target community on Slack.
Reddit: Go to the subreddit search bar and type in your keyword for the community you’re looking for. 
Facebook: Take to the search bar and enter the relevant keyword that describes your target audience. Apply filters as needed and enter groups to find relevant communities.

3. Look for test participants internally

This is best suited for the ideation stage when you’re framing a problem and working out what needs to be done to solve it. Asking for internal feedback is also helpful in early-stage usability testing. Simply share your wireframes or low-fidelity prototypes to test your design’s functionality.

It’s all the better if your internal team is also your target audience. For example, Canopy, an accounting software, tested their Help Center design by asking for feedback from their internal accounting specialists.

4. Embrace Vulnerability

For rapid testing to be a success, it’s essential you go in with a learner’s mindset. Put another way, you should test your decisions with the aim to improve them, not prove that you’re right.

This means you’ll have to be open to receiving feedback and solving design issues based on it. In this regard, sticking with the following mantra by Hillman Curtis, helps: “The goal of a designer is to listen, observe, understand, sympathize, empathize, synthesize, and glean insights that enable him or her to make the invisible visible.”

5. Adopt an Iterative Mindset  

Closely related to receiving feedback is developing a mindset of using the feedback you get to iterate your design. Essentially, iteration helps you better your product at each step.

If you have a hard time adopting an iterative mindset, consider thinking of the rework that’ll go into solving design issues close to your product launch versus tweaking errors as you go with little consequence.

The former takes more time, adds to the cost, and significantly reduces the odds of releasing a product that satisfies your customers. On the flip side, iterating as you go helps you finalize all your design decisions based on the users’ feedback and correct design issues long before they’re baked into your design.

Continual iteration throughout the design process helps you catch problems early on before they culminate into something serious if left unchecked. Ultimately, you create customer-satisfying products that meet users’ needs and solve real problems.

6. Share Your Learnings

Lastly, it’s essential to share your learnings from testing for two main reasons. 

Firstly, communicating your learnings helps others in your organization see the full potential of implementing testing in your product development and design processes. Secondly, it allows designers to better remember what they’ve learned as they review it. 

Here are some ways to communicate what you learn from rapid, remote testing: 

  • Create Loom videos that walk viewers through the main findings.
  • Document findings as presentations or reports that highlight key takeaways.
  • Plan a product team meeting to discuss main findings, takeaways, and next steps.

In short, rapid testing is the key to building products based on your target audience’s feedback and, by extension, preference. By testing all your design decisions in time, you save yourself the trouble of creating faulty designs that fail to please users. So, here’s to a future creating more user-centric designs!

If you'd like to learn more about rapid testing, check out Maze's website or follow them on Twitter @mazedesignHQ. And to learn more about other key elements of the UX design process, we encourage you to explore our UX Academy program or reach out to admissions@trydesignlab.com.

Jonathan Widawski is a veteran Product Designer & former UX teacher. As a UX lead working with clients like McKinsey, Rocket Internet & PSG, he saw first-hand how hard it is for product teams to get the data, insights, and feedback they need to make confident design decisions. He therefore co-founded Maze, a rapid testing platform, to enable companies of all sizes to get insights at scale.

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Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.