Posted by: Arild | March 29, 2010

When do I start testing with users?

I guess a golden rule is that you should start testing before you think it is possible to start testing. 😉 It is very easy to come up with excuses to not start testing, because you always want things to be as perfect as possible before you let any users get their hands on it.

However, the earlier you test, the earlier you get valuable feedback. Fixing usability problems while you are in the early design stages of a project is a lot cheaper than fixing them in the final stages before the release.

As soon as you have your first sketches of the user interface, you can start testing. You don’t have to do anything fancy. Just put the screens in front of a somewhat representative user (or anyone you can get) and ask them to try to figure out what it is, and how to use it. Ask them what they would do if they wanted to perform a task, such as log in, buy a product, approve an invoice, track an order etc.. Then you can hand them pages corresponding to the screens they would get to if they had followed links or buttons.

This can also be very useful in the design of expert applications. In this case you would probably need expert users in the field (as opposed to a general web page that didn’t require any subject matter knowledge). A paper mock-up is often enough to let you know that you need more information in some parts to complete an order. This can also trigger the expert user to make you aware of business and legal limitations that you have missed.

There are many tools you can use to create such simple mockups. You can draw simple screens in PowerPoint or drawing programs, but my favorite mocking applications must be Balsamiq . This allows you to very quickly and easily drag and drop user interface controls to create mock-ups that look almost hand-drawn.

Sample webpage mockup from

Having something that looks very “incomplete” makes it a lot easier for both users and the customer to suggest changes. It may be tempting (and maybe even almost as quick) to create proper screens with graphical user controls, but the more “done” the user interface looks, the more reluctant people tend to be to suggest changes. I guess one reason is that it looks more expensive to make changes to something that looks “done” than something that looks like it has been scribbled down in a few minutes. 🙂



  1. Two great side effects of making mockups early on and letting the users see them:
    1) The users that are given the opportunity to give feedback are thrilled to be involved in the development at an early stage. The solution is anchored (? forankre på norsk – lol) in the organization, giving us a head start on getting the users on “our” side.
    2) The design team gets an “oh my god, was that what we ordered”-feeling.

    I love Balsamiq

    • Two very good points!

      Creating “ownership” among the users can be an important factor in making your project a success.

      Getting a join understanding of what is to be made is another excellent reason for presenting some early mock-ups to the users.

      Yes! Balsamiq rocks! 😉

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