We've said it once and we'll say it again, get feedback or fail. Spending tons of money to launch a product only to later learn that it's a flop (we're looking at you, Google Wave) is not only a waste of time and money, but it can damage your reputation. You need feedback while building your product.
That's where user testing comes in. However, many product designers fear putting their work out in front of would-be customers before it's finished. After all, who wants to expose something they've created to criticism? Who likes to hear where they've gone wrong? Then there's all the work — gathering testers and conducting the actual test. Why go through all that effort when you can just put stuff up and launch it? With that mentality, it can be easy to dismiss user testing.
As the folks at Penny Arcade point out in this excellent video on video game testing, your product is competing with dozens of other products, so it has to be prepared for that. The way to do that is user testing. Check out the video below and notice how the folks at Penny Arcade approach user testing and why you can't be afraid of it:
Let's break down three of the major points in this video and see how we can apply them to our approach to user testing:
- Be willing to admit you're wrong. As the video points out, you're too close to your projects. You'll have a natural bias. Admitting that you don't know all the answers encourages a lot of "why" questions, which leads to solutions to a problem. In other words, it's OK to be wrong because it'll eventually get you to a win in the end.
- Fully invest in your work without letting your pride get in the way. As creative types, we naturally fear exposing our work to criticism. After all, we pour our blood, sweat, and tears into our projects. They become our babies. So it's easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to criticism. One way to keep from being reactionary is to solicit specific feedback, such as avoiding open-ended questions and seeking feedback that is directly related to moving your project forward.
- It's never too early to start user testing. OK, you have an idea for a product, might even have a few pixels finished already, but why start early? Remember Josh Levy and Ross Cohen, BeenVerified's co-founders? They blew $550,000 in funding without getting a single customer because they developed a product in silence first and tried to find a market later. As entrepreneur Joel Gascoigne advises, throwing up a landing page that talks about your product is one way to test drive the concept. Testing early is far cheaper than building a product in silence for months.
It might be tough to hear the constructive feedback from your potential users, but it's absolutely crucial to see if your ideas and concepts work. However, getting feedback isn't enough, you also have to be open-minded and willing to accept that you might not have all the answers.