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User testing – The way to conquer users’ hearts’

The only way to create a user-friendly product or service is by asking the users what they need. This is how we do it when building a Finnish dating app.

Ten different people with mobile phones, some looking happy, some surprised.

“Want your users to fall in love with your service? Fall in love with your users.”

- Dana Chisnell

This quote from Dana Chisnell should be any designer’s principle, whatever their speciality. To a broader extent, any user-oriented organisation should be able to relate.

Here at Aller Finland, we are modernising our dating service, Treffit24. The first release was in 1998, and the latest redesign in 2013 – quite some time ago.

Even though Treffit24 is the second largest dating service in Finland, we have seen through our research that our users are not exactly in love with our product.

We also observed that when one gets tired of the dating service, one is using, one searches for a new one in the App Store or Play Store – not in a web search engine. It appears to be crucial for us to develop as a mobile app if we want to maintain our position on the market.

Person holding a tablet showing a picture of a couple holding a paper heart in their fingers.

How do we conquer our users’ hearts?

One critical step is of course to study our competitors (poke Tinder). However, that’s not enough. We don’t want to be another Tinder. We won’t win users by giving them what they already have, nor what's already frustrating them.

That’s where we need to study our users. In other words, talk to them.

"To find ideas, find problems. To find problems, talk to people."

- Julie Zhuo

Among other things we’ve done, user tests are an essential step in developing any service. They can (and should) happen all along any development cycle.

Hands of five people holding mobile phones.

What’s a user test?

A user test is an evaluation of the service by someone who belongs to its target population. In our case, single adult Finns, to keep it simple.

User tests are an excellent way to get qualitative feedback. When talking live to someone, not only we see what issues they face, but also why. It gives insights on how to solve them.

The opposite is quantitative feedback. An example is when we get much data from analytics. We can pinpoint issues of a whole population, but it doesn't say why things are happening the way they are.

User tests are an excellent way to get qualitative feedback.

Of course, it is necessary to have both qualitative and quantitative feedback. The former is deep, but may not be characteristic of all our users. The latter is superficial, but the data sample is big enough to be representative of our target population.

With both in our hands, it becomes possible to picture our users more accurately.

In a user test, we don’t test how well the service works technically. It may even be that there is no code. A paper prototype can be user-tested just as well as a fully functioning product.

We want to see, for example, if the service is easy to understand, use, navigate; if it visually fits the brand and service, and is graphically attractive to different personalities.

User testing a digital dating app prototype.
This is a testable prototype.

A paper prototype can be user-tested just as well as a fully functioning product.

User testing a hand-drawn dating app service schetch.
This is also a testable prototype.

While designing the new Treffit24, there have been smaller and bigger tests at various stages of the project – and there will be more.

Small tests, we have driven on the go. Get up from our desks. Find a couple of random people in the office who are not related to the project – let’s be honest, in our case, they are potential users. Ask a couple of questions. Go back to our desks. Make modifications according to what they said. Repeat.

We have also driven a more significant test with external users that we recruited on Aller’s sites. It implies more preparation and more work. A lot happens before and after the test, and many questions need answers:

  • A user test is a qualitative method, so I don't need to meet many users. How many do I need?
  • How long do I need to spend with each of them to take the insights deep enough?
  • How do I plan and structure my session so that I get valuable and relevant insights?
  • To get good feedback, you need to ask the right questions. What will I ask the users?
  • People's time is not free. What will I give them in exchange for it?
  • The results will still be valid and valuable for future projects. How do I save it and report it?

In our case, we met four users for a one-hour test each. We showed them a full, high fidelity prototype of the service and gave them tasks to complete – fill in your profile information, or send a message to another user.

Two developers discussing in front of a laptop and a mobile phone.

Everything the user says about the service, or even about competitors, is valuable feedback. They think something is a bad idea? We ditch it – or at least re-think it. They think something is a good idea? We keep it, and improve it. Maybe that's the one that will differentiate us from our competitors. It’s not rocket science, but it is a crucial step in the development of absolutely anything.

This first significant test let us know if we were going in the right direction, and before we started heading there. Saving time, energy and resources. It also gave us input on how to shift our course so that we stay on the right track.

How do we integrate user tests in our product development?

Once we have run a user test, we come up with a new or improved idea based on what users reported. Then we go through the testing again. That's the basics of what designers call an iterative process. Of course, there are other ways to gather users’ insights and feedback. But that's another story.

One of our goals is to set up regular, small tests with users, for example, once a month with three users. It will be an excellent way to get continuous, qualitative feedback from real users.

Two people testing with mobile devices.

One last word

Some may wonder if what I am describing is specific to our case. The good news is: it’s not. That's the beauty of user testing, and design in general.

The core processes and methods stay the same, whatever the project is – a dating app, an online store, a vacuum cleaner, a truck, a supermarket. The designer's job is then to apply and adapt the method to every given project.

That’s the first reason why I chose to work in design: it promotes versatility and constant learning, and one can discover something new in every single project while recycling the process and methods.

Read more:

Steve Krug's Rocket Surgery Made Easy, a step-by-step guide to usability testing – or should I say, the bible of usability testing.

Aller Media Finland is a media, marketing and data company. We own and manage the biggest Finnish social media platform Suomi24 and dating service Treffit24. Read more about our development operations in our Tech blog.