Testing times

How can you be sure that what you have now or what you want to create is what users want?

The most obvious answer  is arguably: “By asking them directly.”

User testing

But if it’s that easy, why is it often a battle to sell user testing? When we suggest user testing to our clients, we are often met with comments like “We haven’t got time before launch”,  “We don’t need to ask users to know what they want” or “It’ll only tell us what we already know”.

This seems a bit nonsensical to me. Why spend months of your life pouring blood, sweat and tears into something you think people want but never ask them if they actually want it?

The most exasperating thing is that user testing doesn’t have to be some big, complicated drawn-out process. In our experience, just ten minutes with a real user can yield all kinds of useful insight that can improve out clients’ bottom line. As Steve Krug says, any kind if testing is better than no testing.

So in an attempt to debunk some of the myths around user testing, here’s how we try to explain it to our clients…

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Seven golden rules for creating a great user experience

When explaining User Experience to people I often talk about tasks – competitor reviews, heuristic reviews, usability and content audits, persona, user journeys, site mapping, wireframing, prototyping, user testing, etc. – the list is long and varied.

This is no mistake. I am “Productising” what we do so that our clients can get a tangible idea of how we can fit into their business and help them improve what they do online, via mobile, etc.

But tasks are just like tools in a toolbox; you have to pick the right one for the job. There’s no point trying to hammer a nail in with a screwdriver. So, what about the thinking behind the tasks? What principles do I follow to ensure I pick the right tasks for the job and deliver something top notch?

Here are the seven golden rules I try to stick to when introducing UX to our clients’ projects:

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What is anchoring and how can it affect user behaviour?

I have noticed an interesting trend starting to appear in UX, recently. Many of my colleagues and peers are looking toward behavioural psychology for answers to online problems.

People are people and they behave like… erm… people. There is no doubt that we can learn a lot from human behaviour – this is often as true in a digital environment as it is in the real world.

Let me give you a working example.

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UX knows no bounds

Humans love taxonomies; we love to group things and put them into neat little boxes with easy-to-understand labels.

“User Experience” is one such label; the term was created to give a name to group of disciplines (in my experience, to do with designing and building websites) that doesn’t sit comfortably under any other name.

But nothing stands still for very long – some things change, some things cease to be, new things are born. Although I think the general meaning of “UX” remains the same, the disciplines within it have changed and continue to do so, especially now that we have to consider lots of different interfaces and devices.

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That’s very clever but I’ve got someone else’s piss on my shoes

Marylebone station toilets

We are based in the sticks, in a lovely little Warwickshire town called Leamington Spa, but much of our work is done with clients who are based in London.

That’s no great issue for us, Chiltern Railways run a service every 30 minutes that takes about an hour to get to Marylebone station, and getting around London from there is really easy. In fact, in some cases we can get in and around London quicker than people who actually live in London.

If you’ve ever passed through Marylebone station, you’ll know it’s quite pleasant. It’s bustling but not too busy, with just six platforms. It’s always clean and it’s quite nice to look at (Victorian gothic architecture, I’d say). It also famously appears as one of the stations on a Monopoly board. But, if you’ve passed through recently, you’ll have noticed the toilet situation has been a bit of a debacle (stay with me, this is about UX, I promise).

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Lean UX in practice

Lean UX is nothing new. Smashing Magazine were writing about it as far back as 2011 as can be seen in “Lean UX: Getting Out Of The Deliverables Business”. But the questions still remain: What is it , how do we do it and does it deliver results?

Is it just another buzzword?

Isn’t it often the case in the digital industry that as soon as we get accustomed to a term, someone invents a new one? It’s true, there are already a plethora of terms for User Experience that more or less cover the same subjects – UX, CX, UE, UI, IA, UCD and UID to name but a few wonderful acronyms.

It could be argued that the term “Lean UX” is another way of saying the same thing but that doesn’t make the principles behind it any less valuable. In fact, I think lean UX is essential for any business looking to step away from bloated specifications and over-inflated budgets, and move to a more nimble, iterative approach to solving their digital challenges.

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Severn Trent Water


Severn Trent Water provides water and waste services to over 8 million domestic and 210,000 commercial customers spread across the Midlands, Wales and Gloucestershire. They have bold ambitions for their digital relationship with their customers. They want to:

  • Make it simple for customers to self-service their accounts and report or track incidents
  • Create goodwill between customer and STW in the communities they serve
  • Show their customers they care by engaging in an open and frank dialogue
  • Continually demonstrate that they provide a reliable service and great value for money.

They know these ambitions cannot be achieved overnight so they looked for someone to help them develop a digital strategy.

In collaboration with Bpi, a Midlands-based digital agency, we conducted extensive customer research and consulted at length with key people at STW and their agencies and got into some serious head-scratching.  Through our joint effort and hard work we grew to understand STW’s specific business challenges and learned how best to overcome them.

The resulting three year strategic plan supported the STW business vision, but also set out in clear achievable tactics how they could digitally deliver this to their customers.

Bpi and your mum have produced a three year programme that is already helping STW develop a market-leading digital offering that includes:

  • A successful strategy for managing customer enquiries via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter
  • A refreshed and responsive customer-facing website
  • A segregated PLC website for shareholders and other corporate audiences
  • An interactive incident map that has drastically reduced the pressure on their call centre teams
  • An digital programme that plays an integral part in how STW do business.

And we have done all this in a a way that is achievable within their business.

Visit www.stwater.co.uk