Design

How to rapidly test any experience

4 min read
Jonathan Widawski
  •  Apr 13, 2021
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Let me guess: If you work in UX, you probably heard this sentence before: “We don’t have time to test the ___ (insert: copy, user flow, design, feature, etc.) right now; we’ll just release it and see what our customers say.”

Developers build products faster than ever, and designers are expected to keep pace. While designers intrinsically understand the importance of user testing, most organizations do not. To receive an effective research budget, designers have to jump through hoops for buy-in, which can be difficult and tiring. Most of the time, designers just make do with less-than-ideal data.

Before I was Maze’s CEO and co-founder, I worked as a lead UX designer for clients like McKinsey, Rocket Internet, and PSG. It made me realize that designers need a reliable testing framework that gives user input quickly, early, and often during the design process. And so, here at Maze, we’ve put one together. Let’s look at it in detail:

What is rapid testing? Definition and benefits

The Rapid Testing Framework by Maze

We developed the Rapid Testing Framework so design, product, and marketing teams can get actionable insights at scale. Every decision in the product development process—from choosing to develop the right feature, designing the user flow, or writing UX copy—is a testable input and must be validated with users.

Testing allows design team to:

Get insights early and often during the design process

The design process starts before you’ve even created any mockups or sketches. It often starts when the team starts questioning their assumptions about what users expect and need.

Involving your users and getting feedback early and often in the design process allows you to dig deeper into the problem and avoid exploring a wide range of potential solutions. So, the earlier you involve your users, the sooner you can collect feedback and iterate. Testing’s return on investment is very high compared to just working with your own assumptions, says Helen Tsvirinkal, product designer at Shopify.

Validate experiences with users before handoff

When you don’t expose what you’re building to users, your team ends up spending time and resources on building features that either don’t create value or don’t work. If the only time you get to learn from the users is after launch—that’s the cost of an entire sprint gone.

Placing what you’re building in front of users’ eyes early and often during the design process means you can validate experiences before handing-off. Testing often allows you and your team to go from idea to final design, confident that you’re addressing a real problem with an effective solution.

Building institutional knowledge about what works and what doesn’t 

The more you test during the design process, the more you acquire knowledge about your users, their needs, and what works and what doesn’t. Yet while testing yields a lot of data for you and your team, it can be scattered inside the organization, with many insights living within siloed teams or members of the same team.

Rapid testing provides not only short-term benefits—by allowing you to create great UX—but also valuable in the long-term because it provides a standardized way to document findings about what works and what doesn’t.

How to use the Rapid Testing Framework for any experience

Rapid testing benefits not only the design team, but your organization’s core product function. Everyone from marketers to product managers become mutually accountable to validate their process, meaning less time spent on building the wrong thing.

The IOTA Loop by Maze

Use the IOTA (Input-Objective-Test-Analysis) iterative loop to test and move forward with your decision. Here’s how it works:

Input

Whenever an important decision comes up (e.g. the feature to design, the copy to use, or the prototype to move forward with), identify it as an “input.”

Examples of questions signifying testable inputs are:

  • What functionality must our users have with this new feature?
  • Is the user flow easy to navigate?
  • Is the design easy to use?
  • Is the copy clear for this action?

Objective

Once you determine the input, next, set an objective—the key result that, once reached, will validate the decision.

For instance, for a usability test, you can set your objective as:

“The goal is for at least 80% of test participants to complete all tasks.”

If you don’t achieve the objective in your first test, iterate upon the experience and test again until 80% of users can successfully complete tasks with the design. In the end, either you reach the objective and begin the next process phase, or you go back to the drawing board and dig deeper into the user experience.

Test

Next it’s time to determine the right methodology based on your goal. For example, if you’re testing your new brand’s first impressions and perception, the right test will probably be a 5-second test or a user interview with open-ended questions.

Analysis

Finally, you’ll assess results and compare them against your objective. If the results match the objective, then you can move onto the next phase in your design process.

If the results are unsatisfactory, then continue iterating on your design solution until you meet your objective (or call the decision off).

IOTA framework example

As an example, let’s look at our experience here at Maze, when we wanted to create an in-app use cases page to inspire designers to create more projects when they sign up. Here’s how we used the IOTA framework to analyze whether we should move forward with our decision:

Input

Our input was “will Maze users be inspired to create more projects after viewing this page in app?”

Objective

Our objective was “At least 60% of users engaging with this page by starting a new project.”

Test

We created a prototype and tested with existing users, showcasing the new page’s user flow.

Analysis

When we analyzed results, we saw the majority of users didn’t understand the purpose of the page. We decided it wasn’t something our users needed, and stopped developing this feature.

Best practices to standardize testing

After implementing testing into our own processes with Maze customers, I’ve come across several best practices that, when applied, enable rapid testing inside organizations.

Here are a few key practices to standardize your organization’s tests:

1. Relay testing’s value

It’s essential to relay the value of testing early and often to your team members, executives, and stakeholders. Start with learning about your team members’ prior testing experience. You may find knowledge gaps to fill.

A few ideas to get you started:

  • Organize events or webinars to share testing’s importance. Offer key examples of how testing helped product and design teams achieve their goals
  • Invite stakeholders and team members to assist with interviews, surveys, or usability tests
  • Regularly highlight key lessons learned in high visibility channels

2. Understand decision-making frameworks

Another way to achieve buy-in is learning where the decision-making power lies in your organization and how you can impact it. “Research should always be oriented around a decision,” says Behzod Sirjani, founder of Yet Another Studio and former head of research and analytics operations at Slack. “Knowing what you’re trying to decide is going to help you understand what you’re trying to look at—and how you’re going to do that research.”

While you might not affect every decision at first, even a few opportunities can help evangelize user testing’s importance.

3. Build a community or tap into an existing one

One important enablement opportunity is building a rapid testing community. Here at Maze, we’ve created a Customer Advisory Board. We connect with members when making strategic decisions, testing a new feature, or validating our ideas.

You can build a testing community by setting up a Slack community or using your own preferred channel. For example, take a look at Sketch Labs or the Freetrade’s Community.

Testing and learning: the key to successful teams

Since implementing the Rapid Testing Framework, we’ve seen our product teams expand from limiting, siloed insights to a team-wide learning system. It has helped everyone from designers and researchers to product managers and marketers get access to insights and collaborate on learnings and findings. I’ve seen it truly democratize our data and form the foundation of an even brighter future for our teams in their quest to solve our users’ problems.