Advice for our user

Jaclyn Perrone

You’re a dog walker and you have a friend who is designing an app for dog walkers. She emails you one day and asks if you’d like to participate in an interview and usability test for her app. You accept, because you want to help out your friend, but then you ask yourself “what the heck is a usability test?”

Firstly, thank you for accepting and stepping out of your comfort zone. You’ve made your friend, and all designers, very happy. She is trying to make an app for you and dog walkers everywhere, but alas, she is not a dog walker. She doesn’t know first-hand what it means to be a dog walker. This is where you come in. She is going to ask you questions and show you some designs. She wants to learn from you to fill in any gaps and poke holes in her ideas. At the end of the day, she is reaching out to you because you are the expert, and you have the knowledge and experience she needs to make her product a success.

What is a user interview?

A user interview is a research technique used to gather information about your experiences, preferences, and behaviors that will help inform a product’s design. For example, you might be asked about the websites you visit most often, or how you share articles among friends. Generally speaking, a product designer has a good idea of who might be interested in their app. By talking to you and others like you, they are gathering information that will either validate or invalidate assumptions about their potential market fit. These research efforts are the initial steps towards understanding an audience and building a product that they couldn’t live without.

Things to remember during user interviews

  • Be honest, open, and give lots of details.
  • There are no wrong answers.
  • We are here to learn from you, so anything you say is useful (and will never be held against you!)
  • You don’t have to answer every question. If you don’t feel comfortable answering something, or if your mind draws a blank, it’s okay! That in and of itself is a valuable finding. If enough people cannot provide a response, then it means we need to either rephrase the question or think about it differently.

What is a usability test?

During a usability test, a designer presents you with a design, prototype, or app and asks you to use it. They observe as you perform tasks, and ask you questions along the way to learn about how (and if) you would use such an app. From here they discover which parts of the interface work and which parts need more thought. This is a great way for designers to gain valuable insight into their design; to see how they can make its experience as smooth and intuitive as possible. Because, in a world where there is an app for everything, a confusing app is easily cast aside in favor of a simple one that does the job better.

Things to remember during usability tests

  • Every bullet point from above also applies here. There are no wrong answers, and be open and honest.
  • You will not hurt our feelings. If you think you would never use our app, tell us. That’s something we need to know!
  • You are not being tested—the design is.
  • Think out loud the entire time. We want to know what you’re thinking as you move through the app. We want to hear about your confusions, your understandings, and your realizations.
  • If you’re stuck on something, that’s good! Talk through your experience. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn how to improve it.

And hey…

You might find that you have a knack for giving feedback, and that you like helping out in this stage of the design process. If that’s the case, keep your eyes peeled for usability testing posts on sites like TaskRabbit, or sign up to be a tester on a service like Either way, thank you again for your help, and we hope it’s as insightful for you as it is for us!