Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply have a stellar idea for an app, develop it, then launch it to resounding success in the market? Unfortunately, the process for creating a successful app is almost never that simple. In fact, it shouldn’t be because a key part missing from the sequence above is validating your ideas and honing in on your target market.
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If you were to try to simply create an app quickly from idea to launch, you might be lucky enough to be successful, but the chances are you’d flop without the vital involvement of the target user.
This is where customer development and usability testing come in. Startup enterprises employ the customer development method to precisely test and iterate every aspect of their business model. Steve Blank has written extensively on customer development and its important role in validation for startups.
The diagram below shows that the first two steps are customer discovery and customer validation, which feed into the agile development process. Essentially, these are about iteration and usability testing your app. Each feature in your app becomes a hypothesis you need to test out.
So, what does it take to ensure you conduct thorough usability testing for those hypotheses? Here are a few tips:
#1. Devise a User Test Plan
Before you kick off any kind of usability testing, it’s useful to have some kind of blueprint to follow so that you maximize the qualitative and quantitative data you get out of your user tests. In an extract from The Handbook of Usability Testing, basic sections of a usability test plan might look like this:
- Purpose – goals and objectives of the usability test
- Research questions
- Participant characteristics
- Usability testing method
- Task list
- Test environment – equipment and logistics
- Test facilitator role
- Data to be collected and evaluation measures
- Report content and presentation
This particular format is created more for larger software applications, so for smaller mobile apps, lighter moderated tests may suffice. Within agile environments especially, the formula followed by The Handbook of Usability Testing may seem too documentation-heavy.
As an alternative, check out this 1-page usability test plan as proposed in a Medium article by David Travis. This moderated test is designed to suit leaner development environments.
#2. Know Your Customer
This is really basic for any kind of new app development. You should have worked on identifying exactly who your target customer is so that you’re able to choose the right test participants. Colleagues tend to be too close to the project to make good test participants, and friends or relatives may not be the best test participants either if they’re not within the target group for the app.
The key is to know who you’re looking for and to get out and talk to them. Having a larger sample of test participants is always a good idea if you can do it, but smaller groups can still give you an abundance of data if you’ve been careful about selecting the right target users.
App creators on smaller budgets could try usability testing methods that use smaller groups that resemble their target market, iterating, then testing again on another group. Continuously improve your app with each usability testing group and look to take care of any issues that keep coming up.
#3. Test Thoroughly
Quantitative usability testing on multiple groups of users, as outlined previously, is a good way to build a thorough picture, but don’t forget to learn their device preferences and do qualitative usability testing across those variations as well.
This is a step that many app creators seem to forget – you’ve got to understand how your app will appear on different devices, including any older devices your target users may still be using. You need to know that your features will work as expected on all devices, which means don’t skip those older ones.
Another point to note is to test on the actual devices. Emulation shouldn’t take over your entire process as it’s not always the most accurate usability testing method. The only sure-fire usability test is on the actual device in question.
Remember to test for that cross-channel situation – what happens if the user moves from using your app on their phone to their tablet? You need to ensure that they’ll have a seamless experience.
#4. Test for Accessibility
Accessibility means that users of all abilities should be able to access, navigate and understand your User Interface. Designing for accessibility is not only the right thing to do for significant portions of the population, but it will help you to create a versatile app that has a better overall reach.
Your accessibility testing should ideally involve testing on users of varying abilities. You need to test for things like:
- Readability of the fonts, symbols, instructions, and menus.
- Ease of navigation. For example, the user shouldn’t have to pinch or expand their screen to try to navigate, and it should be obvious to them where they are meant to go.
- Use of standard commands. You don’t want to introduce complex gesture requirements that people aren’t used to.
- Different options in terms of readability. For example, you might have color to indicate different commands, but back that up with words so that any color-blind users can still easily use it.
- Fail safes for any data elements that the user may want to save. There should be warnings or backup if they’re about to delete anything.
- Timing. You don’t want to require very quick responses. It’s also a good idea to avoid any timeouts without warnings.
#5. Include Performance Testing
There are a few performance-related items that you really need to test. One of the quickest ways to turn users off from using an app is if there are performance issues.
For example, you should be usability testing the battery consumption of your app. Users don’t want apps open which are a drain on their batteries, so they will quickly quit using an app that is. The point of mobile is mobility. No one wants to be tethered to a charger.
Another potential performance issue is the time it takes to load your app. Again, users will be turned off if an app takes a lot of time to load. You should remote usability test this under different conditions – is there a marked difference between using phone data or being connected to wifi? Most of the time, people are out and about on data, so make sure this performs well.
Following on from this, make sure that your app still works well offline if needed. Does it retain data the user needs while in a dead zone?
#6. Use Beta Testers
It is always preferable to get second or third opinions on your work. When you’re creating an app, you’re often too close to the process and unable to see things that might be glaring to independent beta testers.
It doesn’t matter how skilled you are with UX and UI testing. Get those beta testers onboard. Many developers suggest knowing what you need from your beta testing and splitting your testers into groups.
Technical beta testers are your people who are most likely to give you good feedback on bugs and technical issues, whereas marketing beta testers are brought on right before launch. These are the ones more interested in your interface and design, and their feedback can be used for marketing and press.
#7. Remember Security and Permissions
Mobile users can be very sensitive about the security of their information and the permissions given to apps. A strongly suggested quick usability test is to verify that your app is only using the permissions it actually requires to run and nothing more.
For example, if your app requires access to the user’s calendar only to work, it makes no sense if it also accesses their photos.
You should also check log files, looking for errors and stack traces or any information that should not be there. The log level should be set to release mode before your app is launched in app stores, as this avoids sharing too much app information with others.
Get Usability Testing
Successful apps aren’t simply dreamed up, thrown together, and launched. They go through thorough and thoughtful customer development phases and user testing.
Understand clearly who your target audience is and plan to meet their specific needs. Create a usability testing plan and be conscientious about following through.
Remember, an app that has been created with consideration for the user and subjected to thorough usability tests tends to be more successful.