At Sliced Bread, we use a technique called Fast Insight Testing to get lightweight feedback as we prototype. Compared to a lot of user testing, it’s pretty unscripted and casual – not to mention quick. We’re happy to get a rant or a rave, even if it means we’re deviating a bit from our plan.
But we don’t just let people run their mouths about whatever they feel like talking about. That’s not a user test – that’s a bull session. So here are 2 of my favorite techniques for striking that balance between “customer survey” and “psychotherapy session.” 1. Let them know what kind of feedback you want. This sounds obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to forget. Most people have filled out forms, surveys, and questionnaires, but less scripted research is probably unfamiliar territory. Participants are generally eager to please, but they do need to know what sort of responses you’re looking for. We begin Fast Insight tests by telling people we are interested in their unvarnished, unfiltered personal opinion. We’ll often add “I didn’t design this, so don’t worry about hurting my feelings.” Okay, from time to time that’s a little white lie. We’re a small group, and we all do both research and design, sometimes on the same project. But it gets our message across: don’t hold back. (And it reminds us that, even if we did design the prototype, we need to let go of our attachments to it.)
2. Ask open-ended questions about specific things.
If your interviewees seem confused or unfocused, it doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions – they just may not know where to start. The combination of asking an open-ended question, but asking it about a very specific thing, can work wonders. Here are a few examples: • “See that text at the bottom of the page – what do you think of it? • “What are your feelings about the sidebar?” • “Tell me about the sliders on the left.” As people are talking, we’ll frequently interject with follow-up questions. Asking “why?” over and over gets old (and can make you feel like an overly inquisitive toddler), so try one of these alternatives: • “Tell me more about that." • “How does that make you feel?” • “What makes you think/feel that?” • “What’s going on with that?” • “What is that like for you?” • “I’d love to hear more about that.” • “I’m curious about why that is.” The reason this works so well is that it gives your users two important elements at the same time: a relevant starting point (the specific element you’re asking about) and a license to be honest and casual (the open-ended question). Used together, these two techniques help me keep user tests focused but friendly. Give it a try, and let us know how it goes!