1. Any test is better than no test – ideally you’ll have 4-6 carefully selected users (there are companies that find them for you) but in a pinch your neighbour, your mum or some guy off the street can give you an insight.

2. Test many times during the design process. If it’s a brand new site, start by testing paper prototypes.

3. Create tasks for your test subjects covering the main goals of the site – and write the tasks carefully

  • Don’t use words that are in your labelling or visible on the page (leading tasks like ‘how would you sign up for our newsletter’ when there’s a glaring link that says ‘Sign up for our newslettr’ is cheating!).
  • Don’t make up complex scenarios – no “it’s your sister’s birthday next week and…”
  • Never mention the steps in the process – just the end point.

4. Set everything in advance – what your tasks are, what counts as success, what you’ll measure, when you’re allowed to help the user, what state the computer will be in when the user starts… and so on.
 
5. Call your user and remind them before the test. You probably paid a lot to find them and they have nothing to lose by not turning up.

6. Help your user relax. It is stressful being the subject of user testing. Explain that you’re not testing them – they’re testing the site. Say how long it will take, who’s who, what will happen, and that they can stop or take a break any time. Offer water.

7. Give the reward as soon your user arrives. This shows them they have nothing to gain by giving the “right” answers during the test, and gives you more natural responses.

8. Ask the user to think aloud. They should tell you what they’re thinking at any point. Ask them to read aloud what they read on screen.

9. Never give information during the session. Don’t make suggestions or respond to comments. If the user asks whether they’re doing ok, reassure them that they’re thinking aloud very well. You can also prompt them with questions like:

  • How are you feeling now?
  • What are your first impressions?
  • What are you thinking right now?
  • What were you expecting when you did that?

10. When testing kids, test best friends together – it’s called co-discovery, and it helps them relax, focus and keep talking.

11. Be strict with observers.