Design Stories


3 min read

What we lose when we rely on user testing

Go ahead, put all your eggs in the user testing basket. We’ll watch from a safe distance.

Testing is an essential part of the design process. We can assume whatever we want, but other people’s experience is still a black box, a known unknown, a fog-veiled matter of mystery. By testing, we reduce the gap in understanding between ourselves and our users.

“more testing more learning” not always

This begs the question of how to find the balance between testing and creativity?

The reason I ask this question is because I believe that designers should advocate for what they do best, instead of taking the side of the product manager or lead dev. Thinking like a product manager or a developer leads to worse design, period. This doesn’t have to mean ignoring teammates’ interests or resisting compromise, but design quality should never be a priori sacrificed for the sake of development speed and ease.

When designer starts to “think like a Product”

Designers should simply produce the best design they can in the time they have. Visual language is their superpower. Let them use it. Designers should do what they’re meant to do: perform their research, create the solution they believe in, and take responsibility for the outcome.

Designers usually produce multiple versions of whatever they’re tasked with. They show them all to the test audience to see what works and why. That much is obvious, routine, accepted.

What’s not routine is when we are faced with the question I asked in the beginning. Imagine a situation where user testing shows no difference between good design and mediocre design. It seems obvious that we should choose the cheapest option and spend the rest of our resources/money on something more immediately crucial. Seems is the key word here.

Here’s how committing to this decision might help us going forward:

  1. We create a cheaper product, spending our money on something more beneficial to our medium-term survival — sales, marketing, or an additional feature.
  2. Other parts of the product might become cheaper to design.
  3. The product will be more profitable, show better traction, and get through another round of fundraising.

On the flip side:

  1. We lose clients who care about look and feel.
  2. A weak design foundation makes it tricky to add more features. Bad design+lots of features=way too much complexity in our product.
  3. Our product becomes obsolete the moment a competitor launches with superior design.
  4. We saddle ourselves with a vast legacy, which will be challenging to redesign in the future.
  5. It’s more challenging for Marketing to sell a product that doesn’t look sexy. Of course, we have all the metrics and proofs to say that users like our product and it sells well enough, but we all know human nature:)

As with most things, the correct decision is somewhere in-between. The important thing to remember is it’s never wise to make decisions based on numbers alone, including test metrics. The human brain justifies its biases post hoc, providing silly explanations for why we intuitively don’t like something. Listen to users, but don’t rely on them. If you know the most about your product, you can make the right decisions to move it forward.

In my next post, I’ll talk about why adding unnecessary elements/details/easter eggs is the best thing a designer can do. Any ideas as to why?

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