How to Get Fast, Cheap Feedback on Your Product with Tiny Tests

User research you can do now

There’s a lot of advice about how to do great user research. I have some pretty strong opinions about it myself.

But, as with exercise, the best kind of research is the kind that you actually DO.

So, in the interests of getting some good feedback from your users right now, I have some suggestions for Tiny Tests. These are types of research that you could do right this second with very little preparation on your part.

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What is a Tiny Test?

Tiny Tests do not take a lot of time. They don’t take a lot of money. All they take is a commitment to learning something from your users today.

Pick a Tiny Test that applies to your product and get out and run one right now. Oh, ok. You can wait until you finish the post.

Unmoderated tests

Dozens of companies now exist that allow you to run an unmoderated test in a few minutes. I’ve used UserTesting.com many times and gotten some great results really quickly. I’ve also heard good things about Loop11 and several others, so feel free to pick the one that you like best.

What you do is come up with a few tasks that you want to see people perform with your product. When the test is over, you get screen captures of people trying to do those things while they narrate the experience.

Typically, I’ll use remote, unmoderated testing when I want to get some quick insight into whether a new feature is usable and obvious for a brand new user.

For example, if you’ve just added the ability for users to message each other on your site, you can use remote, unmoderated testing to watch people attempt to message somebody. This will help you identify the places where they’re getting lost or confused.

If you’ve done a little recruiting and have a list of users who are willing to participate, you can even ask your own users to be the participants.

And don’t forget, if you don’t have a product, or if you’re looking at other products for inspiration, you can run an unmoderated test on a competitor’s product. This can be a great way to see if a particular implementation of a feature is usable without ever having to write a line of code. It can also be a great way to understand where there might be problems with competing products that you can exploit.

Are you going to get as much in-depth, targeted feedback as you would if you ran a really well-designed, in-person user test? Probably not. But it’ll take you 10 minutes to set up and 15 minutes to watch each video, so you might actually do this.

Remote observation

There is something to be said for traveling to visit your users and spending time in their homes or offices. It can be extremely educational. It can also be extremely expensive and time consuming.

Here’s a way to get a lot of value with fewer frequent flyer miles.

Look at the people in your Skype contacts. Find one that doesn’t know much about your product. Ping them. Ask them to do three small tasks on your product while sharing their screen.

Don’t have Skype? Send friends a GoToMeeting or a WebEx link through email.

As with the remote unmoderated testing, this is best for figuring out if something is confusing or hard to do. It’s not very useful for figuring out whether people will like or use new features, because typically the people in your Skype contacts aren’t representative of real users of your product.

The closer the people are to your target market, the better the feedback’s going to be, but almost anybody can tell you if something is hard to use, and that’s information it would be great to have right now.

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Coffee shop guerrilla testing

Of course, it’s tough to test a mobile app over Skype. You know where it’s easy to test a mobile app? At a coffee shop.

Go outside. Find a Starbucks (other coffee shops are also acceptable if you refuse to go to Starbucks, you insufferable snob). Buy some $5 gift cards. Offer to buy people coffee if they spend 5 minutes looking at your product. Have a few tasks in mind that you want them to perform.

In about an hour, you can watch a dozen people use your app. And if you don’t manage to get any good feedback, at least you can get coffee. But you’ll almost certainly get some good feedback.

This type of feedback is great for telling you if a particular task is hard or confusing. It’s also great for getting first impressions of what an app does or the type of person who might use it.

Five second landing page testing

Sometimes, all you want to test is a new landing page. What you frequently want to know about a landing page is, “What message is this conveying, and is it conveying it clearly and quickly?” Even the tiniest of tests can seem like overkill for that.

For landing pages, I use UsabilityHub’s Five Second Test. You take a screenshot or mockup of the landing page you want to show. You upload it to the site. You enter a few questions you want people to answer after looking at it.

The whole setup process shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes, and within a few hours you can have dozens of people look at your landing page and tell you what they think your product does.

This sort of Tiny Test is wonderful for testing several different variations of messages or images that you might put on a landing page. You can get people’s real first impressions of what they think you’re trying to tell them.

CTA testing

The most important thing to get right on any screen is the Call To Action. After all, you can have the most gorgeously designed images with a wonderfully crafted message, but if people can’t find the damn Buy button, you’re screwed.

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But, as with the landing page tests, this is something that takes 5 seconds. Basically, you want to show people a screen and see if they can figure out where they should click. Guerrilla testing works pretty well for this, but even that may be overkill here.

For CTA testing, I often use UsabilityHub’s ClickTest product. Again, you just upload a mockup and ask people something like, “Where would you click to purchase the product shown on this page?” or “Where would you go to advance to the next slide?” or whatever CTA you’re testing.

A few hours later, you get a map of where people clicked. If there are clicks all over the place, you’ve got some work to do on your CTA.

The advantage to doing something like this over a/b testing is simply that you can get it set up very quickly with just mockups. You don’t have to actually implement anything on your site (or even have a site) in order to test this way. But, if you have enough traffic and a good a/b system already set up, by all means test that way, as well.

What are you waiting for?

There you go. Five different options for wildly fast, incredibly cheap feedback on your product. You don’t have to hire a recruiter or write a discussion guide or rent out a usability lab. In a few cases, you don’t even have to interact with a human.

Are they perfect? Do they take the place of more substantial research? Will you be able to get away with avoiding talking to your users forever? No. But they’re easy, and you can do one of them right this second.

So… do one of them right this second!

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  • Kathy Sierra

    This is the most useful post I’ve read in a long time! I love the idea of tiny tests for so many reasons… but especially because it’s a no-excuses approach and *something* is usually better than nothing. The only thing I am cautious about is tests where people know in advance that they will be explaining what they are thinking and/or why they are doing something. There’s evidence that when people explain or justify aloud, *as* they are doing something, it changes the things they do. Even knowing that they will need to explain *afterwards* changes what they do.

    So in some ways the idea scenario is where you observe what actually happens and infer what they may have been thinking (rather than ask for explanations) *or* you don’t tell them in advance that you will be asking for explanations… In other words, if you could replay part of what they did and then ask, “what were you thinking here?”, you can get different (better) responses if at the time they were *doing*, they did not know you would later ask what they were thinking.

    Regardless, now you have me all excited thinking about tiny tests :)