The most successful digital products are the ones that users enjoy using. But what we rarely think about is how those products managed to hit all the right notes with their target users in the first place. It’s certainly not because they were developed in a vacuum without any feedback from their ideal users.

So here’s the secret…

Product teams in successful companies are implementing prototyping and usability testing as part of their product design process to de-risk the development and launch of new products. Even though many UX design folks know all about the benefits of this practice, it is still terribly underused. Hence so many failing digital products, mobile and web apps.

Why Test a Prototype?

By user testing prototypes early, refining the product based on user input, and then doing more testing, you’ll make sure that your prototype is usable. If users perform the tasks hands-on with your prototype, they can quickly determine whether the product will meet their needs.

“To design an easy to use interface, pay attention to what users do, not what they say.” Jakob Nielsen

UX testing your prototype also helps you solve design problems before the development starts, which saves you time, effort, and money later in the project. It’s much cheaper to change a prototype than it is the finished product! Using a prototyping tool that also lets you create and assign tasks to remote users will help you prototype smarter and get better usability insights. We’ll talk more about helpful tools later in this post.

Let’s quickly summarize the benefits of testing app prototypes:

  • Finding that sweet spot between user expectations, needs, and app functionality.
  • Finding and removing redundant design elements and/or features to save development costs.
  • Removing any frustrations with your product and optimizing the user experience to increase customer satisfaction with the app.

Now that we know why we should do it, let’s go over some of the best practices for testing app prototypes.

Different Fidelities for Testing Prototypes

There’s a lot of debate in the design community around whether UX designers should test early in the wireframing phase, or wait until they build a more sophisticated, interactive prototype and then test it with the right user group. Both methods are valid and both have their own purpose.

User testing your wireframes is super easy and fast and it’s good for testing things like information architecture or interface elements. When testing a rough design, users feel less pressure to complete tasks successfully and are more likely to show negative reactions.

But if you want to understand whether you design communicates the product’s purpose clearly and whether people will be able to use it successfully, you’ll want to test a high fidelity prototype. With interactive prototypes, you can test the app workflow, specific UI components, navigation, as well as engagement. Hi-fi prototype can feel like a “live” app to users which means they’ll behave more authentically.

The choice of prototype will vary depending on the goals you have for the testing, the design phase you’re in, as well as the tools you use for prototyping.

Know What You Want to Achieve

Prototype usability testing is going to bring you valuable insights only if you set very specific and measurable objectives for your test.

These objectives will shape the tasks you create and assign to your users and, the more feature or process-specific they are, the better! We’re going to use our own Koncept app to illustrate examples of both bad and good UX testing objectives.

A poor example of an objective would be “find out whether users can easily create a project.” This may seem like a logical objective since creating a project is one of the most important processes in our app. But the objective is not specific enough, so the tasks we create and insights we extract later in the analysis process will be inconclusive.

Konceptapp

Instead, we want to set functional goals by looking at the different elements of the “creating a new project” process so we can learn things like:

Do users notice the button right away? Do they progress easily through the next steps (e.g. adding scenes)? Are there any design usability issues in the current process flow?

Now we can confidently move on to the next step and that’s creating tasks for the users.

Create the Tasks

When it’s time to create tasks, you’ll really get to see the benefit of thinking through and defining your objectives first. You’ll easily define the tasks your users need to carry out during the test based on the clear and measurable objectives you’ve previously set. If you’re focusing on one particular feature or process, make sure to formulate clear, closed-end tasks around that feature or process.

Test Your Prototypes with the Right People

If you’ve done your user research, you probably have a profile of your ideal user all worked out. If you need help in this department, read our article about creating user personas.

Nailing down your user personas and finding the right people to test your prototypes based on them will help you get the most useful and relevant feedback. Sometimes, in the early stages of the design process when you’re still creating paper prototypes, getting internal feedback from colleagues may suffice.

But as you go further in the process and develop more sophisticated prototypes, you’ll need to work with users who are already familiar with their device and the type of app you’re testing. These people will easily spot any usability problems that exist in your prototype!

Invest in App Prototyping & Usability Testing Tool

Running remote usability tests on app prototypes requires the right tool. A tool that makes it easy to build an interactive prototype out of your static designs, create tasks, and then share them with stakeholders and users. Having this capability is crucial for getting invaluable insight from your users and fast!

We’ve used a number of app prototyping tools over the years to move from creating an interactive prototype to testing it remotely with real users and getting detailed view of their behavior. We couldn’t find one that allowed us to both, so we built Koncept App.

We figured that being able to assign tasks to users in the prototype itself and monitor their interaction with the screens saves designers not only time but also money that they’d otherwise spend switching tools. But if you’re looking for a single-purpose tool, you can also check out other available solutions like Marvel.

Track Key Usability Metrics

Metrics are the quantitative data that measures a user’s performance on a particular task.

The following metrics are directly related to usability and you should be able to track them all:

Success Rate — Were users able to successfully complete the assigned task? Average Time to Completion — How much time did it take users to complete the tasks? Steps to Completion — What steps did they take to arrive at a solution? This can be easily tracked if the tool you’re using provides heatmaps.

Conclusion

Let’s be honest here - if you’re not testing your prototypes you are throwing money away. Unfortunately, many product and UX design teams learn this the hard way.

Their product goes live, first users start to use it, and all of a sudden they have to deal with unhappy customers who require a lot of support. They start to see a pattern in their support tickets and figure out the product has a major usability flaw. Fixing it at this stage becomes extremely expensive!

You need to be wiser than that and build prototypes that you can test early before the development team starts writing the code. This way you can fix any usability issues and improve your design quickly and painlessly, so when your product finally goes live, it provides your users with the experience they expect and deserve.