Your company has a team of professional, experienced designers. So why do you need user testing? Don’t they already “get it”?

Nothing against your talented designers, but they don’t. I should know – I’m a designer too. There’s a lot of reasons that we need user testing – not just when there’s time, or when there’s budget, but for every project.

Read more: What can user testing do?


Why designers don’t “get it”

Research is an indispensable step in the design process if you want a good UX. That’s because UX is not about the designer – it’s about the user. Without users’ input, we’re playing (educated) guessing games.


1. Designers are not the same kind of people as users

A friend who works in fundraising for higher-ed told me a story about his department’s website. Their design featured sliders for users to input information like their age, their intended donation amount, and more.

The site’s users, however, average 79 years of age, and many were having problems with the sliders. Older users often have greater physical difficulty making precise selections, and as less frequent internet users some are also unfamiliar with UI elements like sliders.

Sliders aren’t necessarily a bad design choice, but the designers hadn’t accounted for the difficulty their much older users would have with the element.


2. Design can be an insular community

The design community is always subject to the latest trends: which aesthetics, layouts, icons, and color schemes are “in” or not. We follow these trends to create websites that look modern and beautiful. But they are not always the most usable.

That’s because as new trends take hold, it takes time for the public to catch on. Even the omni-present “hamburger menu” icon is hotly debated, with some studies showing that a lot of users don’t understand it. And increasingly, a new grid icon that’s just as unclear and with even less exposure is being used on many major websites.

Grid icon from gmail

All too frequently, the design community hops on board with these trends without stopping to ask whether users are being left in the dust.



3. Familiarity blinds us to what’s obvious and what’s not

When we’re used to something, it’s easy to lose sight of how it comes across to newcomers. You look at a design so many times that it becomes second-nature to you – you know where everything is, what everything does, because it’s your product that you work on every day.

But if you’d never seen the website, would it still seem so obvious? Think about your TV remote. You know how to use it. You know where the Mute button is, where the Guide is, how to change the volume or go to your recorded shows. Have you ever had a friend over who struggled to find some of these? Or who had to ask you how to use your shower controls?

We can forget how hard something is to use when we interact with it every day.


A luxurious chandelier


User testing isn’t a luxury

It’s a necessity. It’s not about whether your designers “get it.” There are some things that are simply unknowable without research.

But still, it’s ok to go ahead with an untested product, right? Surely it’s good enough, even if there are some unaddressed usability issues?

User experience directly affects business goals. Amazing Websites uses a hypothetical example of a small shoe store to show how, by a very conservative estimate, bad UX could cost a small e-commerce site $126,000 in revenue. Another study estimated that bad UX costs companies $243 per customer, on average.

So is user testing a luxury? Depends on whether you want to lose $243 per customer. And don’t call me Shirley.