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UX Design: Finding Alternative Paths to End Users

August 13, 2015

Some say that if your organization doesn’t believe in performing user testing on a regular basis, you need to change that culture. Without closing the loop of cyclical feedback to drive iterative development, you’ll never get a good product out to market. Indeed, the golden rule of user design states "test, test, and test again" - the more user testing conducted, the better.  But how do you get good feedback when your user pool is tricky to access, specialized, and short on time?

As a user experience designer working on our new Aura platform, this question is often on my mind. I know first-hand just how difficult it can be to receive regular feedback from actual end users.  So, I posed the question at a recent talk given by Peter Szabo of kaizen-ux.com on ‘The seven (plus) deadly sins of UX design’.  He offered a number of possible solutions, one of which was particularly interesting: relying on user testing companies to recruit people who closely match your user profiles.  However, the cost associated with this approach limits its regular use in the development cycle.

A UX team member from the event’s host, Huddle, offered a suggestion often overlooked: tap into your support team, find out what users are calling about, and reach out to them directly. From this approach, the company found users were more engaged when they saw their issues being addressed, and, by establishing these relationships, they could reach out to the users again for further feedback. Additionally, those users became ambassadors for Huddle within their organization. There is a danger, however, in basing your user testing on the perspective of individual users - so this method is best used only as a starting point.  If you can find other users who share the same problems, and put it into context, you can then better rely on this information.

Another potential source of information is past products. Aura’s predecessor application, BrandOcean, has been in use for over 8 years and has amassed a huge amount of feedback and insights in that time. My team compiled this feedback, identified and prioritised the pain points, and created the development path accordingly.  Focusing on these improvements, the UX team is helping Aura outshine its predecessor.  And after being available for about a year now, with thousands of agency users, it’s now much easier to gather more feedback and further improve the UX.

Can the latter two methods replace formal user testing? Not entirely. But, when you’ve got limitations, you need to think outside the box and find a way to utilize what’s already available to you.