How to Perform User Testing in 10 Easy Steps

Last Modified: Sep 12th, 2023 - Category: Freebies, Tutorials, UX Research
Perform User Testing in 10 Easy Steps Cover Image

User testing plays a pivotal role in the design and development process. It provides insights into how real users interact with your product and identifies potential usability challenges. However, a common misconception is that effective user testing requires a significant financial investment. This article will demonstrate that even on a tight budget, you can execute meaningful user tests that can greatly benefit your product’s user experience.

1. Recognize the Value of User Testing

Before exploring cost-effective methods, it’s beneficial to grasp the essence of user testing. It helps prevent extended design phases, ensures a user-friendly experience, and can significantly increase the likelihood of your product’s success. By finding ways to reduce costs without reducing the quality of testing, you’re making a strategic investment in your product.

Strategies to Embrace Its Value:

  • Feedback Loop: One of the foundational ideas behind user testing is the feedback loop. By routinely testing and obtaining feedback, designers can continually refine their product. This iterative approach ensures that no design decision is made in a vacuum.
  • Quantitative and Qualitative Data: User testing is not just about numbers; it’s also about understanding user behaviors, motivations, and pain points. By combining both quantitative (e.g., time spent on a task) and qualitative (e.g., user feelings or frustrations) data, you get a comprehensive picture of the user experience.
  • Risk Mitigation: By addressing potential issues early on, companies can avoid costly redesigns or feature changes in the later stages. This proactive approach can save both time and resources.

2. Remote User Testing

Image of student performing remote user testing
Remote user testing is a viable solution for those in need of user testing on a budget

Eliminating the need for a physical presence can reduce many overhead costs.

With the rise of digital technology, the contours of interaction and feedback collection have been reshaped. Remote user testing has emerged as a pivotal component in this updated framework, providing unmatched flexibility and an expanded reach. This significance was amplified post the COVID-19 pandemic when remote work surged, necessitating productivity tools to adapt to these fresh challenges and offering us renewed viewpoints on routine tasks.

Unique Aspects of Remote Testing:

  • Geographical Independence: One of the standout benefits of remote testing is its capacity to transcend geographical limits. This capability allows designers to access a varied user base, encompassing multiple cultures, languages, and lifestyles.
  • Convenience and Comfort: Conducting tests in a familiar setting can yield more authentic interactions. When users engage with a product in their own space, they can reveal insights that might go unnoticed in a controlled setting.

Strategies Tailored for Remote Testing:

  • Pre-test Surveys: Prior to the main session, it’s prudent to distribute a pre-test survey. This aids in gauging the user’s background, technological expertise, and establishes the context for the test.
  • Screen Recording Tools: Leveraging tools such as Loom or ScreenFlow proves immensely beneficial. Beyond capturing the user’s screen, these tools record their reactions, offering designers a window into emotional feedback.
  • Engaging Tasks: Maximizing the output of remote sessions demands engaging task designs. Rather than just navigational tasks, encourage users to vocalize their thoughts, express their sentiments, or simulate specific use cases.
  • Feedback Annotation Tools: Solutions like Miro or InVision empower users to annotate directly onto designs, furnishing visual feedback that pinpoints specific areas of concern or praise.

3. User Testing Free Tools

In the realm of UX research, there is a myriad of tools available, with some of the best ones surprisingly available for free. Let’s delve deeper into the categories mentioned:

  • Recording Tools: OBS Studio, for instance, is a fantastic tool not only for gamers but for anyone looking to capture real-time interactions. Whether you’re conducting remote usability testing or want to record how testers navigate your website or application, OBS Studio provides high-quality recordings. Additionally, tools like Loom can also help by allowing users to record their screens and voices, adding a personalized touch to feedback.
  • Survey Tools: While Google Forms remains a staple in collecting straightforward feedback, SurveyMonkey‘s basic version offers more structured survey designs. These tools can be utilized to ask users about their overall experience, pinpoint specific areas of concern, or gather demographic data that can aid in the segmentation of feedback. Another great addition in this category is Typeform, known for its engaging and user-friendly interface, turning the mundane task of filling out a form into a delightful experience.
  • Prototyping Tools: Figma and Adobe XD are increasingly becoming industry standards for design and prototyping. Their free versions are quite robust. For those who wish to prototype with real data, Figma’s community allows users to share and use plugins that can populate your designs with actual content. Adobe XD also integrates well with other Adobe Suite products, making it a favorite for those familiar with tools like Photoshop or Illustrator.

4. Guerrilla User Testing

Stepping away from the digital realm and into the real world, Guerrilla User Testing offers an opportunity to gather feedback in a more organic setting.

Guerrilla User Testing in action
Guerrilla User Testing can be performed in any place like bars, parks and university hallways.

This method might seem a bit off the beaten path, but its charm lies in its spontaneity. Engaging potential users in places like coffee shops or parks means you get raw, unfiltered feedback. To make it a win-win, offering a coffee or a snack not only serves as a token of appreciation but can also make the participant more open and relaxed during the testing.

However, a few things to remember when conducting Guerrilla User Testing:

  1. Be Clear and Concise: As these testers aren’t scheduled, it’s essential to respect their time. Ensure you have a clear set of tasks for them to complete.
  2. Document Religiously: Carry a notebook or a recording device (with their permission) to capture feedback accurately.
  3. Be Prepared for Varied Feedback: The spontaneous nature means you might encounter a diverse set of users, leading to a broad range of feedback.

Both the use of free tools and Guerrilla User Testing exemplify that quality user research doesn’t necessarily require a hefty budget. With the right tools and an open-minded approach, insights can be garnered in the most unexpected ways.

Note: Truly free user research doesn’t exist. It’s unethical to expect participants to contribute without any form of compensation. While directly paying interviewees may not be ethical either, consider small gestures like treating them to a coffee as a token of appreciation.

5. Limit the Number of Participants

It might seem counterintuitive, but when it comes to user testing, bigger isn’t always better. Limiting the number of participants can be both efficient and effective. The principle behind this approach is grounded in the “Law of Diminishing Returns.” After a certain number of test participants, the number of new insights tends to plateau.

Strategies to Implement:

  • Focused Testing: Instead of generalized testing, target specific user segments. For instance, if your product is aimed at both novices and professionals, consider testing these groups separately to get more concentrated feedback.
  • Iterative Testing: Begin with a smaller group, implement changes based on their feedback, and then test again with another small group. This iterative approach ensures continuous improvement.

Related Concepts:

  • Pareto Principle: Often referred to as the 80/20 rule, it suggests that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. Similarly, a small, focused group can provide a significant portion of the feedback you need.
  • Quality over Quantity: Concentrate on the depth of the insights rather than the number of participants. A few well-selected individuals can provide a wealth of valuable feedback.

6. Offer Services in Exchange (Bartering)

The art of bartering goes way back, predating currency-based economies. In the modern context, especially in the digital landscape, the concept of service exchange has taken on new dimensions. Here’s how you can harness this age-old system when it comes to user testing on a budget:

  • A Personal Touch: Begin by understanding your testers. What are their needs or wants? For instance, if one of your testers runs a blog, you might offer to write a guest post in exchange for their feedback. Tailoring your offerings to individual testers not only sweetens the deal but also builds a genuine connection.
  • Exclusive Sneak Peeks: While early access to certain features is enticing, consider going the extra mile. How about hosting an exclusive webinar or workshop for your testers? Share insights or expertise that can benefit them. By doing so, you not only get your product tested but also form a bond with potential long-term users.
  • Beyond the Product: Bartering isn’t just about swapping services; it’s about creating lasting relationships. Remember, today’s tester could be tomorrow’s advocate or collaborator. For instance, if a tester has a significant online following, consider proposing a collaborative project in the future.

7. Engage with Online Communities

Engaging with online communities is like diving into a rich ocean of insights, experiences, and knowledge. These platforms, filled with passionate users and enthusiasts, offer authentic feedback if approached the right way, and they can be a goldmine for free user research.

Reddit, for example, boasts numerous ‘subreddits’ dedicated to particular interests. To engage effectively here, become an active member, not just an observer. Begin by contributing valuable content, answering queries, or sharing relevant resources. Once you’ve built rapport and credibility, you can introduce your product or idea for feedback. Remember to be transparent about your intentions, as online communities value authenticity.

Free user research in online communities
Online communities are great to get participants for user testing on a budget

Specialized forums can be even more targeted. Identify forums that resonate with your product or service’s niche. Engage with ongoing discussions, understand community dynamics, and, when appropriate, solicit feedback on specific questions you might have.

Social media groups on platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn have the added advantage of demographic variety. Here, a more casual approach can be adopted. Engage with posts, run polls, or even host live sessions to answer queries in real-time.

In all cases, ensure you give back to these communities. Share the changes made based on their feedback and acknowledge their contribution. This not only nurtures trust but also fosters a long-term relationship, turning community members into potential brand advocates.

8. Prioritize Key Features

Let’s think of your product as a novel. While every chapter is essential, some just hold the crux of the story, the turning points. Similarly, in the realm of product design and development, certain features play a pivotal role in determining user satisfaction and product success.

Instead of spreading efforts thinly across all aspects of your product, take a moment to evaluate. Which features align most with your product’s core value proposition? Which elements will your users interact with the most? These are your key features.

Focusing on these elements ensures two things:

  1. First, it guarantees that primary interactions, the ones most users will encounter, are seamless and user-friendly.
  2. Second, it ensures that your resources—time, money, and manpower—are channeled where they can make the most significant impact.

For this, start by mapping user journeys. This helps in identifying touch-points that users engage with the most. Feedback from initial user testing can also highlight areas of primary concern.

Once these key features are identified and refined, it becomes easier to address secondary features, using the momentum and insights gained from perfecting the primary ones. This approach is not just efficient; it’s strategic, ensuring your product makes the best first impression and offers sustained value over time.

9. Network at Local Meetups or Workshops

Delving deeper into local meetups and workshops, there’s a treasure trove of potential that goes beyond just finding testers. As amicable gatherings of like-minded individuals, these events are brimming with enthusiasts, professionals, and hobbyists, all eager to exchange ideas and collaborate.

Strategies to Maximize Networking:

  • Be Genuine: Approach conversations with genuine interest. Remember, it’s not just about what you can extract, but also what you can contribute.
  • Stay Updated: Use platforms like or Eventbrite to keep an eye on upcoming events. Even subscribing to local UX and design newsletters can provide a heads up on interesting workshops.
  • Offer Your Expertise: Consider giving a talk or conducting a small hands-on session. This can position you as an authority in the field and make it easier for others to approach you.
  • Collect Contact Information: Whether it’s business cards or social media handles, ensure you have a way to reconnect post-event.
  • Follow Up: A quick message or email post-event can solidify the connection and open doors to further collaboration.

While the immediate goal might be to find testers, the long-term benefits of building a robust professional network can significantly outweigh the short-term gains. These events aren’t just transactional opportunities but a chance to grow and nurture your professional community.

10. Partner with Educational Institutions

user testing in educational institutions
Partnering with educational institutions is a great idea for some cheap user testing

Educational institutions are not just establishments of learning; they are breeding grounds for fresh perspectives, innovative solutions, and untapped enthusiasm. Especially in design and UX, the academic world often harbors the avant-garde of the field.

Ideas for Collaboration:

  • Guest Lectures: Offer to deliver guest lectures. This doesn’t only provide students with industry insights but also familiarizes you with potential collaborators.
  • Real-world Assignments: Propose your ongoing projects as case studies or assignment topics. This way, students get practical exposure, and you receive diverse perspectives on your project.
  • Feedback Sessions: Organize sessions where students can showcase their projects, and you can provide feedback. It fosters a culture of learning and mutual respect.

Partnering with educational institutions goes beyond just cheap user testing. It’s about co-creating knowledge, understanding emerging trends from those who challenge the status quo, and nurturing the next generation of designers and UX specialists. By building these bridges, you’re not just optimizing for the present, but also investing in the future of the industry.

BONUS TIP: Hire an Affordable UX Company

User research goes beyond just collecting data and insights; it’s about extracting actionable, transformative information that can elevate your business. And while anyone can gather feedback, the real value is in obtaining insights that make a tangible difference. A wise, calculated investment now can prevent costly missteps later, ensuring you reap richer rewards.

By choosing to work with a dedicated UX company, you’re entrusting the complexities of user research to experts. This allows you to channel your attention to refining your product and mastering other important aspects of your business, from design to marketing.

Seeking a partner for meaningful user research? Look no further. While our service isn’t free, it’s undeniably invaluable. Experience the power of PURPOSEFUL user testing with us. Reach out today, and let’s elevate your business strategy together!

Final conclusion: Affordable User Testing is Possible

The realm of user testing is vast, but it doesn’t necessitate a hefty budget. With a blend of resourcefulness and strategic planning, you can conduct cheap user testing (or even free user testing!) that yields actionable insights. However, it’s vital to distinguish between ‘free’, ‘cheap’, and ‘affordable’. While ‘free’ is a rarity (and for a good reason, especially if you’re pricing your product or service), ‘cheap’ often compromises quality and offers no guarantees. On the other hand, affordable UX research signifies value. It promises high-quality results akin to pricier options but at a more accessible rate.

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