Usability Testing: Getting Guerrilla With It

A visually appealing application with innovative interactive elements might be ineffective and impractical if the needs, wants, and interests of the user have not been considered. User needs can be diverse and should require special attention throughout the project lifecycle. The key is to test early and test often to ensure that you are designing an application that is serving a purpose, solving a problem, and addressing user needs and wants.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing deals with observing and understanding how users interact with a website, or application, with the goal of understanding how the system can be optimized and improved to provide an optimal user experience. Being able to meet and interact with users to gain insights is a proven method that ensures you are creating a product that is meeting user needs.

Why is usability testing important?

Usability testing is essential because it uncovers problematic areas with an application that may have been overlooked or missed in design. Problems can be discovered regarding navigation, visual hierarchy, information architecture, providing unnecessary features, etc.

Through usability testing, you can see the impartial interactions that a user has while they are attempting to complete a goal on a website or application. Their behaviors can help you understand what areas of a website or application are difficult to navigate through, what information is difficult to find, what text needs to be clarified, and any other obstacles that prevent users from completing tasks, or that make the tasks unnecessarily difficult to complete.

One of the key benefits of user testing is that it allows you to identify problems and inefficiencies immediately. It provides the ability to inform design. Understanding how users think and behave when interacting with a product validates assumptions, uncovers areas for potential enhancement, removes biases, and provides data that guides design direction instead of designing based on opinions and assumptions.

When should usability testing be conducted?

Usability testing should be conducted throughout the design lifecycle and is especially valuable and important in the early stages of a project - that is, before the design is complete and sent off for development. Usability testing should be conducted throughout the lifecycle because the earlier designs are tested, the sooner problem areas are discovered and fixed. The sooner these problems areas are addressed, when developed, the more likely users will enjoy their interaction with a website, return to the site, and recommend it to others.

Budgeting and time constraints?

There are many instances where a company does not have the time, resources and personnel to appropriately conduct iterative user testing. The concern here is that removing user testing from the design process often leads to usability and design failures. Without having any data and human insight, designs are based on assumptions. Many products are designed without an understanding of the needs and wants of the user, which can lead to designs that do not solve problems. How can someone know what problems need to be solved without 1) understanding if the features in a design are going to add value to the design and 2) understanding the inefficiencies with an existing process?

So….what are the options when time is of the essence and there are budgeting constraints? The answer is Guerrilla User Testing.

What is guerrilla testing?

Guerrilla user testing is a rapid, low cost method of capturing user insights and feedback that could drive design. Guerrilla usability testing involves analogous approaches to standard user testing, but with a quick and informal method to uncovering insights. It should involve a trained user experience professional asking questions and documenting user thoughts about specific areas of an application or website with the goal of understanding what areas can be optimized. Although unconventional, guerrilla testing can potentially be an effective and efficient method for gathering meaningful and actionable data at low cost.

Guerrilla testing can be performed several times throughout a project and can be utilized in the beginning of the design lifecycle for discovery, and throughout the design lifecycle, for validation.

How to conduct guerrilla testing

Decide where you would like to conduct the guerrilla test.

It is very important to choose a location for testing that is conducive to receiving useful user feedback. The location of the guerrilla test affects how the test is performed and the kinds of insight that are gained. For instance, if you are assessing a mobile application that is revolved around health and fitness, it would make sense to collect information from athletes, trainers, and yogis. When deciding the location, you may have to be creative. For example, if you were to assess how athletes, trainers, yogis, and generally healthy people would interact with the application, you would set up a testing environment outside of the gym, yoga studio, or juice bar, and assess the designs.

Provide an incentive

Participants will be more likely to participate in the study if there is some type of incentive. For example, providing the participants with a $5-10 gift card could lead to gathering more participants. You can also ensure a higher quality of participants. Since they are receiving a reward, they will be more inclined to provide meaningful feedback.

Decide what to test

Deciding on what to test all depends on where you are in the design process. Is the goal of the testing to test for discovery or to test for validation?

Whether you are in the beginning of the design process and have sketches drawn on paper, or have a functional prototype where participant performance and preferences with key tasks can be assessed, guerrilla testing can be performed.

How to test

Guerrilla testing is most optimal when using a qualitative approach, asking open-ended questions, and using a think aloud protocol.

For example, if you're testing in the beginning of the process to better understand how users perceive a homepage and top level mega menu, asking open-ended questions could be useful to better understand how the participants perceive the design. Keep in mind that it is important to ask open-ended questions that do not lead the user.

Questions asked could be:

  • What are your first impressions?
  • What do you like and dislike?
  • Is there any information here that is unclear or confusing?
  • What stands out the most on the page?

If testing a functional prototype, you could assign tasks to better understand navigation, discoverability, and findability.

If an interaction was created that allowed users to enter the amount of estimated calories consumed during a cardio session, the following task could be assigned to the user:

Task: “Please show me where you would go to enter in the amount of calories burned from your cardio session.”

By observing the user performing tasks, insights can be gained regarding where the user struggled, what information was difficult to find, and where the most difficulty was regarding navigation. Once the task is completed, open-ended questions could be asked to understand how to improve the current process.

Questions asked could be:

  • What was the most difficult part of completing the task? Please explain.
  • How can the design be improved? Please explain.

Capturing Feedback and Analyzing Results

When analyzing results, it is important to look for trends.

  • What were some of the common concerns users had?
  • What tasks did users have the most difficult time completing?
  • What did users express confusion about the most?

Having this information readily available allows you to identify which areas can be optimized. Once you understand what the common themes are regarding user feedback, it is then time to discuss the key takeaways with the team.


Essentially, guerrilla testing is a quick, low cost technique to gathering human insights that can be fed into the design process. One of the advantages of guerrilla testing is that it can be performed multiple times throughout the design lifecycle for discovery and validation. It can help fast track the testing phases of the design lifecycle, and provide sufficient intuition to make informed strategic decisions.