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Top tips for running a lean user testing session

Words by Piers TincknellMay 5, 2017

Recently at Atomic Smash we have been taking the time to engage with website users after the website has been launched to gather valuable feedback. 

The Bristol Festival of Ideas website has been live for over 2 years now and we have received some very positive feedback from users as well as BFOI team members. However we wanted to dive a bit deeper to see which areas we can improve upon.

To do this we held some user experience testing here at Atomic Smash. You can hire dedicated user testing labs with one way mirrors and front facing cameras and eye ball tracking. We did not need that level of UX testing for this to be valuable and so we built our own mini UX testing lab in the studio.

Here are our top tips to remember when hosting your own lean user experience testing laboratory.

Tip 1

Try and get a range of users. We were lucky that BFOI were able to reach out into their community and find us a good range of users. Some people were frequent website visitors whilst others had been on the website maybe once or twice.

Tip 2

Make sure you clearly outline expectations before the user arrives.

I always clearly explain:

  • What will happen during the session
  • How long it will take
  • Explain clearly that it is not a test of their skills / competency
  • What devices they will be using in advance

Tip 3

Provide a pleasant environment to work in. I always ensure that the user is greeted warmly and is shown the bathroom (sometimes people do not want to ask) the fire escape and then offered a cup of tea and or water. I also offered up Harts Bakery cakes as a way of reward for giving up their time. People’s time is very valuable and so you should make them feel as comfortable as possible.

**Bonus Tip** I also always say that a couple of the tasks I know are particularly tricky, this then makes the user feel more at ease if they are taking a long time to complete something.

Hosting lean user testing for Bristol Festival of Ideas.

Hosting lean user testing for Bristol Festival of Ideas.

Tip 4

Do not assume everyone knows how to use a mouse OR a trackpad on a laptop. You do not want the user to feel awkward and this is not a test of their computer interaction skills, it really should be all about the website. I always ensure I have a range of interface devices so that users feel comfortable.

Tip 5

Do not assume everyone knows how to use an Apple Mac. It is very easy for people who work in digital to forget that a large % of our users are using Windows devices.

Also if you are using an Apple make sure you disable all of your gestures/ hot corners.

Read the Bristol Festival of Ideas Casestudy

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Tip 6

Do a couple of run throughs of your tasks yourself and time how long it takes. I always run through it quite slowly and methodically which is a good estimation of how long the user will take.

Tip 7

Test across a range of devices. Do not just test on Desktop, make sure you test on Tablet and Mobile.

User testing in Bristol for WordPress

Test across a range of devices.

Tip 8

Debrief. At the end of the session make sure you give a thorough debrief explaining how the findings may or may not be used. I always reassure users if a couple of people struggled on a particular task.

Tip 9

Expect the unexpected. You will not believe some of the things that users will try and do to your website. It is very humbling when the first thing that someone tries to click on is not a link. It really makes you think harder about creating a clearer design language.

Tip 10

Have fun! It’s a great chance to meet new people and understand more about who you are designing for. Take time to ask questions at the end about why they like the organisation / company they are testing for and ask what they feel about the website in general. You will get some really valuable feedback from this guaranteed.


Those are our top 10 tips on what to think about next time you are running your own lean user testing session. Do you have any more you would like to contribute? Add them in the comments below or @ me on Twitter. @pierslewis

Profile picture of Piers Tincknell

Piers Tincknell

Piers is a co-founder of Atomic Smash and heads up the user experience design and project management in the studio. He is also the best contact for any new business enquiries.

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