Lean User Testing: A complete guide to testing without labs, experts and expense.

“I believe strongly that everyone…can…and should — be doing their own testing” — Steve Krug, author of Don’t make me think

I cannot agree more with the statement and I am sure all of you do. This is the backbone of Lean UX.

What is Lean UX?

When budgets, time constraints and other factors dictate, what we cannot happily and comfortably go ahead with is — ideal user research route. We have to think smarter. That’s when Lean UX comes into picture. Working on a design project with a team, there’s always a temptation to lay down rules. But, if these rules are not followed,….. well, then that’s what is LEAN UX!

Here’s how complete process can be—

  1. Once an idea is in place,
  2. The team begins to provide their insights on the direction of the design as well as its feasibility.
  3. Changes are then made to the original idea, or perhaps it’s scrapped entirely and a new idea proposed. The initial investment in sketching is so minimal that there is no significant cost to completely rethinking the direction.
  4. Once a direction is agreed upon internally, a rough prototype helps to validate the idea with customers.

That learning helps to refine the idea, and the cycle repeats.



Breaking down lean UX testing

What to test?

The beauty of Lean UX is that you can test it with almost anything, concepts on a napkin to a whiteboard, a quick wireframe or a fully functional prototype.

Quick tests at every stage of the project ensure that the project never goes off-track. Also testing with concepts on napkin and whiteboard ensure that there is no more flying blind in the early stages.

“A sticky-notes prototype allows you to iterate your design practically at the speed of thought. Any issues you find in your testing can be fixed immediately right in the field with a pencil and an eraser as soon as they are identified.” — Greg Nudelman

Where to test?

A usability lab is an artificial environment where cameras and various observation severely affect posture, ergonomics, and behaviour of the participant.

For me, I personally believe that to get much better data and more honest feedback one needs to interact and observe users in their own natural habitat. Places such as coffee shop queues, bus and metro stops, or any other local particularly appropriate to the use-case are apt places for interacting and speaking to users.

People usually do not mind using a prototype on a mobile device when they are anyway getting bored in a queue or sitting idle in a metro. Rather, when your testing becomes a part of user’s daily routine you capture users’ brutally honest response and feedback.

With whom to test?

Building a user persona makes your analysis task, efficient and fun. Building user persona is no doubt a time taking process, but if you look at the UX validation process as a whole, you will find you are saving a lot of time during data analysis if your user persona is accurate. If your recruits are unlikely to perfectly represent your user base, there’s only so much of a sample you can take in the end. If you need a very large sample — recruitment without accurate user persona certainly won’t cut it.

Lean UX is a flexible process and there is so much of experimentation you could do around. Just to give a framework for persona creation, I am listing down this always used formula :

  1. Interview and/or observe an adequate number of people.
  2. Find patterns in the interviewees’ responses and actions, and use those to group similar people together.
  3. Create archetypical models of those groups, based on the patterns found.
  4. Drawing from that understanding of users and the model of that understanding, create user-centered designs.
  5. Share those models with other team members and stakeholders.

Treat different people differently. Anything else is a compromise.” — Seth Godin

How to test

Once you have the information above; you can begin with usability testing. Below, you’ll find a couple of lean methods to conduct user research on a budget.

  1. Guerilla research

“There are no facts inside your building — get outside” — steve blank

Whether you’re exploring a particular research problem or testing a design solution that you already have, guerilla research can be a huge time-saver.Guerilla testing in it’s simplest form is getting onto the locations where you would find users of your persona and asking them to use your prototype for a minute or so.

Most stakeholders and clients refrain from usability testing because it involves spending lots of time and money to see the results. But why would anyone object to a usability method which does not cost much and gives amazing insights before you jump to development? That’s guerilla testing!

A guerilla approach to usability testing removes many of the challenges related to scheduling, travel, paperwork and setup.

I found some amazing ways designers have attracted their users for the guerilla testing 🙂 —

Interesting! Isn’t it? I would definitely approach a UX designer with such an interesting call out! And I am sure many other users would.. (Also I am biased towards the profession 😉 )

           2. Online questionnaire and surveys

Another lean method commonly used in user research: questionnaires and surveys. Unlike traditional surveys, online surveys offer companies a way to collect information from a broad audience for very little cost. Also, it by-passes the requirement of the researcher’s presence.

You can design your online survey based on what you want to validate and which stage of the project you are at. Here are the areas you should target to cover –

  1. Users’ perceptions of the severity, or level of frustration, with certain issues
  2. Which parts of your product are perceived by your users as more problematic
  3. Users’ overall perception of the product

I use Typeform and Survey Monkey to design my survey forms. Recently, I sent out an online survey form to validate if my users want a feature of design hand-off inside CanvasFlip itself. Here’s the survey (Would love to have your feedback entry as well)

          3. Remote usability testing : CanvasFlip

Remote usability sessions don’t require either the participant or the facilitator to travel. It’s a great solution for teams with a limited budget, or for testing products whose users are geographically dispersed. Having said this, you also save ample time and hence you can test often.

CanvasFlip is a platform that provides unmoderated remote usability testing.

Create a prototype at every stage of your project, paper sketches to fully functional prototypes and share it with users across the world. Once the user is done with using the prototype, just log in to your CanvasFlip account and get the complete analytics of the user session in the form of user videos, conversion funnels and heat map. [Know more..]

Final words

Some lean UX methods are better than none, so applying these principles as best you can get you to customer-validated, early-failure solutions more quickly. Test often at lower cost and effort. That pretty much sums up lean UX!


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Monika Adarsh