We’ve been working hard on the re-brand and re-build of Think Vitamin Membership (soon to be called Treehouse). If you’re building a web app, I’d like to share a tactic that we used that has helped us a lot: Pre-Alpha Testing.
Here’s the main problem: You need to do user testing on your app, but you’re a long way off from having a Beta ready. The answer is Pre-Alpha Testing.
How it works
We’re building a learning game engine and we needed to do user testing and make sure it actually worked well and helped people learn. We couldn’t wait to design and build a Beta, only to discover there were fundamental problems with the way the game engine worked.
We solved the problem with what I call a ‘Pre-Alpha User Test’. Here’s how we did it …
1. Created a User Flow Diagram
Allison created a basic UFD that explained how the gaming engine would work. She used LovelyCharts but I’m a big fan of Google’s super-awesome online drawing tool (which has live-collaboration and powerful flow charting capabilities – all for free).
2. Built basic views
Once we agreed on the UFD, Allison marked up very basic HTML and CSS views of each page. These views are basically un-styled pages that our Developer, Alan, can then start hooking up.
3. Created a rough working mockup
There were no user accounts or server-side databases. It’s all just client-side code to give the appearance of a working app.
Alan then deployed the app to Heroku.
4. Styled the views
Once the app was working, Allison went back in and added more styling and spent more time on UX to make the app more usable and life-like.
5. Ordered tests on UserTesting.com
We ordered 3-5 tests on UserTesting.com, specifying the type of user we were looking for ($29 per test). We also asked some of our loyal Think Vitamin Members to help us out as well, by conducting the tests with ClearLeft‘s SilverBack app.
6. Reviewed the tests and iterated
Once the user testing videos had been completed, we each watched them and made notes. We then had a Skype meeting where we discusses usability problems with the demo, and what actions we’d take to fix them.
We’d then update the app and visuals over one to two days, and then order another set of user tests, and then repeat again.
Overall, we did three rounds of user testing, in just two weeks. It was amazingly valuable and I’m SO glad we did it.
We’re going to throw away all the code and start over, but we now know that the fundamental functionality of our app is usable and successful. Bam! 🙂