Zero-Cost User Testing: More Accurate Evaluative Research For Almost Nothing (Relatively)
User testing is often perceived as an expensive, resource-intensive task, but it doesn’t have to be this way. For instance, at Dyne when we were looking to test a new mobile ordering feature, we used Google Forms to simulate the ordering process. Customers placed their orders through the form, which was set up to go to the kitchen staff for fulfillment. This not only gave us invaluable user insights, but also allowed for quick adjustments based on customer feedback—all without requiring a dedicated budget for testing.
Our Process
The best time to conduct zero-cost user testing is actually before you even put a new feature on your development roadmap. When we come up with a new idea, we start off with some preliminary user interviews to assess its demand. If the concept holds up, we then move on to zero-cost user testing to see if it is perceived as well in real conditions as it is in our initial evaluations.
Application and Benefits
By gathering insights at this early stage, you can make an informed decision about whether the feature is worth pursuing in the first place. This can save your developers' precious time and resources, which are often limited. Even better, you don't necessarily need polished mockups or prototypes to get meaningful feedback. Simple sketches, or even a well-explained concept alongside the zero-cost tests, can be enough to gauge user interest and uncover potential issues. In conjunction with pre-testing and post-testing interviews, this proactive approach ensures that you're investing in features that genuinely add value to your users.
Estimated costs were calculated based on average feature development times accounting for design, product, and developer wages as well as monetary or gift card incentives for testers.
Our Implementation
At Dyne, we implemented zero-cost user testing for the mobile ordering feature since we recognized it would be exceptionally expensive to develop. We conducted our testing at a partner restaurant that agreed to host us and our study participants. Participants were briefed prior to arrival and received a demonstration before ordering. Orders were sent to us via Google Forms refreshed at 30 second intervals, then sent to the kitchen, and finally confirmed by a server. After receiving their food and finishing their meals, participants were asked several questions to gauge sentiment and reception to the feature, then shown mockups and a Figma prototype to determine whether their expectations were met. If the zero-cost user testing and the Figma prototype were received poorly, the idea was scrapped; otherwise, feedback was implemented and the feature was added to the product roadmap.
We used a Google Form since it was the easiest and most familiar way for study participants to send their orders to the kitchen without a server.
After ordering and receiving their food, participants were shown mockups to see whether they met their expectations in comparison to their zero-cost testing experience.
Summary
In an early-stage startup where resources are often limited and every decision counts, the fast and accurate validation of ideas is crucial. By incorporating real-world scenarios into user interviews without the associated development costs, zero-cost user testing is a just as cheap, more accurate alternative to pure user interviews. Of course, it wouldn't be as accurate as developing a feature with subsequent usability tests, but it saves a considerable amount of time and money for few drawbacks.
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