Yes, you can test the user experience before you build it.
In fact, this approach will save considerable amounts of time and help to create successful designs that truly engage users by addressing their needs.
The flexibility of the design-and-test process
Research, Design, Measure
The design process involves key stages that don’t necessarily have to be fixed. They can be done in any order and repeated at any time. Investing in usability testing early is an incredibly effective way to avoid user experience debt, that is, the gaps in experience that users endure through designs that are not created with their needs and pain points in mind.
Where to start?
There are enormous benefits to measuring the usability of the existing offering as the very first step. Namely you can identify the key areas that need improvement and will benefit users. By starting with testing it prevents the need to do a lot of rework over time. It can be your first step and then your most valuable tool at each stage of the project.
Finding the problems before building the solution
To make sure your design is relevant, you need to find out what the user needs or problems are first. If you start creating solutions for problems that don’t exist your design will be less engaging or even irrelevant.
And how do you find out what users need? This can be measured quickly and easily through directed usability testing on your current products or competitors products.
External feedback for internal stakeholders
Ideally, input comes from stakeholders, but sign-off comes from customers or users. Key stakeholders within an organisation tend to assume that their in-depth knowledge of their existing products affords them the ability to build new and better iterations. However they are often blind to the gaps in functionality or the difficulty in finding a key feature that new users might experience.
“Ideally, input comes from stakeholders, but sign-off comes from customers or users.”
The fact is that internal stakeholders are not the actual users. You need unbiased feedback from users who are actually part of the target market.
Redesigns (not needed?)
Before thinking about the redesign, you can measure the current experience first. Measuring the current user experience provides the information needed to start building the improvements needed in the next version of what you’re creating.
Brand new concepts (not needed?)
You can start with usability testing on competitor websites before you get started. Your product may be responding to be perceived gap in the competitor landscape. The quickest and easiest way to confirm this is by completing usability testing on competitor products. A competitive advantage comes not only from a deep understanding of what the competition offers but also from the confirmed knowledge that your product will be providing value where your competitors fall short.
This is not some big, expensive methodology
Ideally, all products or services should undergo research, design and measurement prior to build or launch. But doing any one of these, in any order, still yields huge benefits to the product.
What is involved in Usability Testing
Usability testing involves observing and measuring participant performance of certain tasks on digital interfaces such as websites, apps, terminal screens and other connected devices. Usability testing can be carried out on paper-based wireframes, clickable prototypes, as well as existing websites, apps and connected devices.
How long does it take?
We're not talking about a lengthy process here. This may only require 2-3 days of usability testing on 'real users'. The resulting findings and insights will yield objective and highly useful design recommendations (that hopefully put the opinion-driven decisions to bed!)
Yes – usability testing can happen at any stage in the design process but by starting there first you are setting up your future work for success.