How user testing is changing

A key aspect of Lean UX is the continual validation of ideas and designs by users (customers) and the incorporation of their input and ideas into later iterations of ideas and designs.

Whereas previously, we generally had to wait until we had completed prototypes and designs (weeks and weeks into a project) before we could show our work to users and get their feedback, with Lean UX, we’re getting the feedback of our customers from day one.

Last week, I was in a meeting where the salient point was made that this approach – test early, test often, test anything – really had no right or wrong way about it; however you approached it was alright.

The point was also made that the days of 'lab testing' being the pre-eminent and superior form of testing were over; that we don't need to necessarily be locked in a lab to achieve meaningful and relevant user testing.

Which brings me to question the role and relevancy of more formal, more traditional testing approaches; does the Lean UX idea of testing replace or supplement the traditional approaches?


What Lean UX gets right is timing

User testing in the Lean UX process is informal; it doesn’t need to have structure and can go any direction you want as long as the feedback is relevant and from the users you are targeting.

What Lean UX has going for it, is its timing. Questions are asked right up front meaning that feedback is early and can be utilised early without the need for significant refactoring.

Lean UX is literally a continuous loop of iteration based on user input.

The problem with more traditional testing is not its accuracy or depth or formality, but that it is late in the piece.

Sometimes too late that something of any significance can be achieved in modifying the work you have tested, taking into account the feedback and results of the user testing.

Generally speaking, you need completed prototypes, designs and sometimes, a completed website in order to be able to undertake more formal types of testing.

If feedback can be incorporated from more formal types of user testing (i.e. you have time), the refactoring (i.e. rebuilding) will have expense in terms cost and goodwill.

As well as time of course.


Combining Lean UX and the traditional...

The upside of more formal and considered user testing (i.e. task based, in-environment, eye tracking, user diaries etc) is the granularity and precision of the results, the depth and measurability of what is tested.

It is very much a case of horses-for-courses.

Where Lean UX is high-level and early, traditional forms of user testing are low-level, precise though as discussed, necessarily late in the game.

Ideally, both forms of user testing are utilised in a project.

  1. Lean UX is used to validate ideas.
  2. Traditional testing is used to ensure that users can complete the tasks you want them to complete, look at the right places etc.


We still have cameras and specialised software in our office for undertaking formal testing and there are plenty of eye tracking tests being conducted every day.

The difference today is that the results from the more traditional testing should be less of a shock and more of an affirmation that we’re on the right path and have users vouching for this.

Test early, test often, test in detail when the time is right.