Are you craving frequent user feedback but aren’t sure how to go make it happen? The goal of this guide is to give you an actionable plan of how to set up weekly user testing in an efficient way that while challenging, can be accomplished by a single designer. In 2018, I created and followed this weekly process and spoke to 2–5 users per week. It IS possible with the right preparation and conditions.
One note before we start: this is not meant to be the most rigorous research. This is about talking to users and gathering feedback on a regular basis to move quickly through the design process. Have fun with it and embrace the scrappiness.
In order to succeed with this challenging cadence without burning out, you need to get a few things ready.
Clear your Schedule
The project for which you do this method needs to be your focus. It can be hard to make time for heads down work time, but you’ll need dedicated parts of each day to keep on schedule. If you have to prioritize one day a week to cancel meetings and block your calendar, it should be the day you conduct your user research sessions. You’ll need time debrief, jot down notes, and let’s be honest — rest. User research is taxing!
Have Participants at the Ready
The last thing you want to be doing is scrambling to recruit and throw off your schedule. Gather a list of participants who you can contact each week. Try to make this a good mix of the the roles and backgrounds you are looking to speak with. Ideally, there are enough participants on your list that you aren’t bothering the same group each week.
New to recruiting? Here are some resources:
7 Tips to Win User Research Recruiting
Recruiting and Screening Candidates for User Research Projects
Five Ways to Recruit Participants for User Research
Set up Scheduling & Email Templates
Going back and forth through email to find a time that works for you and your participants is a black hole of time you will never get back. Use a scheduling tool like Calendly or Acuity Scheduling and send the link to your participants. Keep track of the emails you use so you can copy and paste them each week. If you use your email’s BCC field you can email all your participants at once.
Jim Ross has a some great tips for writing recruitment emails including using a good subject line, focusing on establishing credibility and trust, using simple, brief language, and making sure the desired action is crystal clear. I’ve found using a subject like “you’re invited to participate in _____” or “We need your help to improve _____” catches folks attention and appeals to humanity’s curiosity and desire to feel important.
Don’t rush these steps. Making sure the participant’s experience from the moment you first make contact is an important step to getting these users to speak to you in real time.
Monday — Recruit
NOTE: though I call this step recruit, if you have made the preparations, this step should only take a fraction of your day. Send out your email invitations and use the rest to work on preparing your design.
Tuesday — Design
At this point in the week you should be thinking about what you want to get feedback on or about. If you’re just starting a project, you may have a lot of questions and some user flows to run by your participants. Maybe you have a few different concept directions to test out. Later, this may change to wireframes and prototypes for usability feedback.
This is the day to build whatever assets you plan to show to users. On Tuesdays you may want to schedule regular time to get internal feedback or block out heads-down time to focus on designing.
If you’ve already gotten some feedback, use this day to iterate and make changes based on what you’ve learned. Refine the language in your designs, fix prototype dead ends, change the type of graph you’re using to display information to a user, etc.
Wednesday — Prepare Moderation Guide/Script
The first time you write this guide will take the longest, but as you go through each week, you’ll find you just need to tweak it each time to adapt to your new design iteration or add in new questions that are on your mind.
In fact, think of your moderation guide as something that is continually iterated on — just like your design. As the weeks go by you will learn which questions are most effective and what language is clearest for your participant.
Resources for writing scripts and moderation guides:
A general guide to moderated usability testing questions & prompts
Checklist for Moderating a Usability Test
Writing an Effective Guide for a UX Interview
User Interview Example Questions
Thursday — Conduct User Sessions
Here are a few things to ensure your sessions run smoothly:
- Mute computer and phone notifications
- Close unnecessary software, tabs, etc.
- Set up a second monitor to display your moderation guide/ script or print it out
- Pull up any visuals you will be showing (prototypes, screens, etc.)
- Get ready 5 minutes beforehand
In a perfect world we have other teammates to attend these sessions and act as note takers. Ask your product managers, other UXers, or engineers if they will help out with this step. It makes the synthesis a whole lot easier.
If you’re on your own, there are a few ways to go about it:
- Take notes as you conduct the sessions (as best you can)
- Watch the recordings afterward and take notes
- Review transcripts afterward and pull out the key points
- Jot down what stood out to you immediately after each session
In their article, A step-by-step guide to user research note taking, Arnav Kumar suggests taking 10 minutes after each session to elaborate on any notes you took in your session. They say to make sure your notes are “written down in a way that anyone who read your notes is able to understand what you learned from the session.”
These days it should be fairly easy to record any sessions so I recommend asking for a participant’s consent to record and recording every session. Even if you don’t watch it, at least you have it if you need it.
Friday — Synthesize Findings
Unlike a longer-term study, you won’t have time to analyze every comment from each participant and that’s okay. Your goal on this day is to pull out the key pieces of feedback you want to address. If you have a large team that can help with a synthesis you may be able to do a more robust analysis — but it’s not necessary to get valuable information. One method I used was to quickly color code my research notes according to what went well, what was confusing or didn’t work, and what is an idea for an improvement brought up by the participant. Another way would be to affinity map the top takeaways.
Be okay with imperfection
This process is rushed, messy, and that is okay. You won’t have enough time to conduct a robust synthesis and you may not have the perfect prototype, but you will still learn and your design will improve.
This process was created for 1 week but you can adapt this to a 2, 3, or 4 week cycle, just stretch out the time between each step.
Bring others along
Hearing from users is one of the best ways to energize a product team. Bring your engineers, quality assurance folks, product managers, and anyone else who is interested into the research process. That could look like inviting them to join your user sessions as silent participants, inviting them to a readout on Friday afternoons to hear what you learned that week, or even asking for note takers in your sessions to balance the research load. Seeing users excited and complete tasks with your design goes a long way towards reducing pushback on your design choices when development starts.
A designer’s guide to weekly, scrappy, rapid iteration and testing was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.