Design Thinking Phase 5 - How to Test Effectively

Find out how testing provides the validation design teams need to create great products and helps unearth any flaws that a product has before being launched.

Testing is a fundamental part of a UX designer’s role. User testing allows designers to gain inspiration, overcome their biases, and be guided. Testing provides necessary evidence of intuition and helps designers to alter products and services where required. 

There are many options available for designers to choose from when it comes to testing. And while testing can be incredibly beneficial, designers can miss out on some great benefits if they make several common mistakes. 

In this article we’ll cover exactly what a user test is, where it fits into Design Thinking and outline some of the best practices to make sure that you're really doing user testing the right way!

So let’s jump in… 

What is a user test? 

User testing refers to the method used in the design thinking process which evaluates the product, feature or prototype with an end user. 

Usability testing is important for multiple reasons, the most important being that it allows the design team to see where the product is flawed so that they can address the problem before launching. Identifying these issues early on reduces the energy expended by the team, time and of course, money. 

In general, users are usually given tasks to to perform with the product, prototype or feature. While the user carries out the task, the designer observes, asks questions and takes notes. 

User testing involves multiple steps - designers must create a test plan, recruit participants, perform the test and analyse the results for findings and ideas moving forward. 

Several rules should be followed in order to reap usable results: 

  • The user should be representative of the user base of the end product or service.
  • Testing should take place with participants that are unknown before the test so they remain impartial and are not biased.
  • Sessions should be documented for later review.
  • Results should be reviewed by a UX designer to understand the best fixes.
Two users conducing user test on mobile phones

What is Design Thinking? 

So now that you have a good understanding of prototyping let’s run through design thinking once more so you have a well rounded idea of the process as a whole and exactly where usability testing fits in!

Design thinking is a non-linear iterative process that teams employ to understand users and create strong products and services. This process challenges assumptions, redefines problems and creates innovative solutions to prototype and test. All in all it involves five phases— Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. 

These stages should be understood as different modes that contribute to a project, rather than sequential steps. Design Thinking is great for tackling problems that are hard to follow or unknown. This process helps the team to reframe the problem in a human centric way and creates a product or service that feels intuitive for the end user.

Design Thinking Phases. 1. Empathize 2.Ideation 3.Defining 4. Prototype 5.Test

Why do we need to usability test? 

User testing gives you incredibly useful and valuable insights from you users regarding why and how they will use your product. You’ll be able to better understand who your users really are and what they want to achieve through using your product. 

Before user testing is done - much of the envision product works off the assumption of the team of designers. Sure, these designers may have completed the empathy stage and researched - but there is a good chance that crucial information has been missed and that designers are working towards their own bias without realising. 

User testing takes the product back down to the core. The actual test session will provide the designer with valuable feedback as they will be based on real-life facts, observing real people and not just assumptions.

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When is the best time to conduct usability testing? 

User testing does not have to be expensive or carried out in a lab. In person works best, but remote user testing can work, and there are also 3rd party services that can provide some insight for less cost if necessary. 

Testing can happen at pretty much any stage of the design process. In general the sooner you test the better as less work has to be redone later. Ideally, testing should happen a few times over in a project’s lifecycle for optimal results. However, if there are limited time and resources, testing can take place once but this should be chosen wisely. If money is off the essence, rest assured that laboratory conditions are unnecessary - and testing more often than in perfect conditions will always be better. 

User testing should happen on every project. Even the best designers can’t fully foresee their own bias or identify reactions ahead of time without testing. Testing allows a designer’s ideas to be validated. This validation is vital to reducing risk and will help the process, not to mention save the business money. 

Two UX designers sketching wireframes on paper with black markers

Is user testing really necessary? 

We know you’re probably wondering “why bother?” 

 All we can say is that, if you feel like you should forego this step - please rethink it and don’t make the mistake. Testing does take time and if you have a deadline approaching it might seem like an obstacle to miss altogether. All that we can say is that projects that skip this step seem to end up fixing flaws and problems down the line which costs businesses and teams far more time. 

So do yourself a favor and always, ALWAYS find a way to fit this portion in. Usability testing will definitely pay off.

Conducting a user test

Keep the goal in mind that you want to gather as much information as you possibly can as early as you can and that you’re doing this for 3 main reasons. These reasons are: 

  1. To fix any flaws and strengthen the product for an overall better experience.
  2. To save time and money for the company - be able to resolve issues before the expensive part of the process. 
  3. To save energy expended from your team and challenge the assumptions made.

Running a usability test should help you to see if: 

  • Users are able to complete tasks successfully with no confusion.
  • Users are able to complete tasks efficiently.
  • Any changes should be made to create ease and improve performance.

In addition to these objective findings, you should also watch out for if the product works effectively and if the users enjoy using the product. These objective and subjective findings provide valuable feedback that help you to shape and improve your design.

Five people participating in a workshop and sitting around a table looking at a computer screen

Best practices for user testing

First things first, when conducting a user test on your prototype, try and utilise a natural setting. You want to aim to have the normal setting that a user would usually be using the product. If testing in a natural setting is difficult, try role playing to bring the situation closer to what you envision it to be. The key is to get the users to be using the prototype as how they would in real life. 

Once this is set then follow on with these to get the MOST out of the experience and your test results. 

The prototype

It’s important to keep in mind that the prototype is what you are testing and not the user. In usability testing, the user is always right - if something is too complicated or not working well - don’t grow frustrated with the user but understand that the product or service is lacking intuitive design. 

3D printed product proototypes

How you interact with the user

Make sure to give the user some context - it’s important the user feels in the loop and isn’t left totally in the dark. That being said - be aware to not overexplain. Overexplaining is the enemy here and will really defeat the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish. Balance is key. 

How you observe and note feedback

Make sure that no matter what you are doing you are not disturbing the user’s flow with the prototype. Find a way to collect feedback that let’s you observe while also remaining unnoticeable. 

By following these 3 key steps, you will greatly improve your learning experience. 

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Guidelines when planning a test

Now interested in planning a test? We’ve got you covered!

Let your users compare alternatives 

Create different prototypes, each with slight variations based on your different ideas and let the users test these different prototypes. This way you can speed up the user testing process by getting insight into slight variations straight away.

Show don’t tell: Let your user’s experience the prototype

Avoid over explaining how the prototype works, what you hope to see or what the constraints are. This will totally undo all your hard work. Give enough context so the user is in the loop - but not so much that you’re creating biases within them.

Ask users to talk through the experience

When users are exploring the prototype ask them to say their thought processes out loud so you can see how their mind is working and observe more closely. This might take some getting used to for some users - but it will help you evaluate the intricacies much closer.


Observe how users either "correctly" or "incorrectly" use the product - and resist the urge to correct them! You want to make sure your product is falling in line with intuition - so don't explain or interfere. Watch and see where different facets are either failing or succeeding. And remember - the user is always right.

Ask follow up questions

Ask follow up questions even if you think you know what the user means. It's crucial that you understand your feedback so don't skimp on this section. Ask a lot of questions so everything feels clear on both ends.

And there you have it - our best practices for doing user testing the right way! Have any questions or comments? Let us know in the comments and don't forget to follow us on LinkedIn or Instagram if you don't already for lots of handy tips like this.


Content Creator for AJ&Smart