Today’s question comes from a user who wishes to remain anonymous:

Q: I work for an e-commerce web agency. We are currently working on a startup’s website and we are trying to make UX and Design decisions with data. What user tests should we run and what tools should we use?

A: Thanks for the great question, first and foremost. In order to give you an answer that you can actually put to use, I think we need to know more about what you’re doing. There is no way any UX practitioner, in my opinion, can give you truly practical or usable or applicable advice unless we know a whole lot more regarding the context of what you and your client are trying to achieve. In terms of any reliable conversion or success metrics, context is key, and that context has everything to do with the types of products on the site, who they’re intended for, who the intended (and actual) audience is and what the competition is doing, among many other factors. Without knowing and addressing those items, any user testing tools or methods I’d suggest would be nothing more than guesses, and that won’t help you.

So instead, let me ask you the following questions as a starting point:

  1. What decisions are you trying to make? In what areas/aspects of what you’re designing and building?
  2. Who are the site’s customers, and what do you know about them?
  3. What do those customers expect from the site? Notice I didn’t say want or need – focus on EXPECT.
  4. Who are the site’s competitors, and what features/functions are equal between your site and theirs?
  5. What do you believe to be the main competitive differences your site can provide that competitors can’t?
  6. What end result – above all others – does the client believe to be most critical?

Any user testing tools or methods you choose should be specific to those questions, in that they help you get clearer and more confident in the answers. And that’s not possible unless you’ve already spent time researching these areas and talking to stakeholders and/or users. If that hasn’t happened, then the first thing to do is go about getting that information at some preliminary level. Then you can start thinking about user testing tools and methods that would help you prove or disprove what you think you know.

Otherwise you’re leaping into user testing tools far before you look, and that almost always results in a very unhappy client (and a very painful experience for you). I always say that the bad ones last forever.

The data you collect – from sources to collection method to analysis method – is entirely dependent on the answers to these questions. The last 25 years of my career have taught me (the hard way) that there is absolutely no one-size-fits-all answer. Blindly choosing a handful of common user tests and a popular tool don’t guarantee anything. You’ll certainly have data, but it will be more relevant to the tools and methods used than to the actual problem at hand. It won’t move you any closer to understanding what people expect from your client and what your client needs to do to meet and exceed those expectations.

I wish you much success, and GIVE GOOD UX!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If you’d like to get more advice from me every month on UX, UI and Product Design + Development topics — in the form of training videos, full-length courses, e-books, downloadable templates and more — check out my NEW online school, the UX 365 Academy. Every month I publish new content, and you also have access to every course, book and training video I’ve ever created — some of which have never been published online before now.

Check out the UX 365 Academy >