How to Run Formal Usability Testing on a Budget (and Save Thousands!)

#UsabilitiesUnleashed: How to Run Formal Usability Testing on a Budget (and Save Thousands!)

 

It’s time for real talk, y’all. How do you conduct usability testing on a budget? This post is part three of the 3-part series, #UsabilitiesUnleashed.  Here’s what you can expect from this series:

  1. The Importance of Usability Testing for Your Business
  2. How to Create and Run Effective Usability Tests
  3. How to Run Formal Usability Testing on a Budget (and Save Thousands!)

We now know that usability testing is super valuable. But here’s the hard part, most UX and research firms charge thousands of dollars a day to help your company run formal usability testing. Yeah, you heard me right – thousands. And yes, I’m talking about US dollars, not Monopoly dollars.

Crazy, right?

Well, here’s the good news, there are many inexpensive ways to run a usability test that yield valuable feedback on a budget; testing on a budget can still be extremely effective.

If you want to learn how to run a $5,000 usability test for only $500 (or less!), read on.

How to Run Formal Usability Testing on a Budget (and Save Thousands!)

Before I go on, I’ll give you a moment to grab your pens and notebooks. People – these ten steps are going to help your value increase tenfold, so read closely. These steps are my proven path to testing on a budget and getting a $5,000 usability test down to less than $500.

Companies with a sufficient budget have the ability to splurge on initiatives like usability testing. Here’s an example of a cost breakdown you might see at a mid to large sized company:

Cost Breakdown

Participant Recruiting Fee (6 Participants + 2 Alternates) – $600

Participant Incentives(6 Participants + 2 Alternates) – $800

Study Lab or Space Rental – $1000/day

Research Firm Consultancy Fee – $3000 (on the low end)

Total – $5,400

Note: I chose the low end for all of these numbers you see here. You can check out the range of studies like this to see how the costs can rack up!

Smaller companies and startups tend to have smaller budget put aside for user research. There are also some larger companies that may not value user research who have decided not to put aside money for running studies, either. Fear not! If you’re part of a team that is in any of these situations, you can still get crucial feedback by testing on a budget. So, how do you run a formal usability study when you have no money in the bank?

Here’s the lowdown:

1. Be Realistic with the Date

As outlined in part two of this series, setting a target date for running a usability test is the first step to effectively setting up a valuable study. As before, make sure to set the date out far in advance (maybe even 3 weeks). I recommend being a bit flexible with the date as it is going to depend on when you find a space to conduct the study.

2. Find a Moderator Who Can Do the Job (Pretty) Well

Moderators help you by asking questions and conducting the one on one interview with your participants. This person should be unbiased and be able to frame questions in the same way. Usually, companies hire someone to do this, but they too cost money!

When testing on a budget, I recommend trying to get someone else in your team (not a design, product manager or engineer) to be the moderator. This person should be educated on the proper way to conduct these studies and ask questions. In the worst case scenario, the designer can dig up some research on how to ask unbiased questions and opt for being the moderator themselves. Though it’s not ideal, this is always better than having no usability study!

Cost Breakdown So Far

$0

3. Secure a Decent Interviewing Space

For any study, you’ll need a quiet space to have a conversation with your participants. I recommend getting a room with no company branding on it, and that’s in a quiet place. Often it’s hard for companies to find space in their offices to conduct studies, so I recommend checking out coworking spaces like WeWork or Galvanize. These tend to be pretty good options, but when testing on a budget, you may have to go a step further.

In startups that I’ve been part of, I had to do some pretty intense digging through the interwebs before I found a room with the right price. Luckily, I’ve gotten great prices for meeting room rentals on LiquidSpace. If you really can’t find the right space, I recommend checking it out. You can typically find a space for an 8 hour day for less than $200. Once, I found a space for $100/day! Cha-ching!

When you’re looking for a room for user testing, it’s important to find a space that is comfortable and has enough lighting. You want your users to feel at ease and be able to see or read clearly. If there is a window in the room, the best thing to do is to set up the tables and chairs so that the participant is not looking out of the window. Often windows can be distracting for study participants.

Of course, it goes without saying, but the best spaces for usability testing have at least one table and two chairs. You’ll need a table to place any prototypes and other materials you’ll need for usability testing.

Cost Breakdown So Far

Study Space Rental – $150 / day (average)

TOTAL – $150.00

4. Find the right equipment

When running a usability test, it’s almost impossible to catch everything a participant says or does. For this reason, you’ll want to video record the conversation to go back through later and watch. However, not everyone has access to high-quality cameras. If you’re testing on a budget, I recommend trying to rent one out or borrowing one from a friend.

I usually rent a video camera at a photography store to use for the study or borrow a friend’s camcorder. If you’re trying to produce the usability testing session on a super-low budget, you can even use the camera on your laptop (Yes, I’ve done this before!) Just make sure to reduce the brightness on the screen so that the participant doesn’t get distracted by watching themselves on the screen.

In studies that have a prototype on a mobile device, I often set up a second video camera to capture the participant’s movement and actions on the phone. This camera can be someone’s old iPhone/Android or even a GoPro. I typically borrow a friend’s! To mount the camera, I usually use a flexible mount that I set up on the side of the table and a mobile phone or camera to record the phone screen below. You can always go into iMovie (or another video editing app) later to use the Picture-in-Picture mode to attach the two videos together.

Cost Breakdown So Far

Study Space Rental – $150 / day (average)

Video Camera Rental – $40 / day (for a Canon Vixia HFR HD SD Camcorder)

Borrow a friends extra smartphone or GoPro – $0

Purchase a Flexible Mount – $26.93

TOTAL – $216.93

 

5. Get the Prototypes Ready

As mentioned in part two of this series, there are many ways to build prototypes for your product or service. When testing on a budget, I recommend finding a prototyping tool that adds no cost to the budget. I’ve found that InVision is great for this. Remember at this stage your goal is to get feedback on the experience and make sure it’s feasible. The prototype doesn’t have to be perfect!

Cost Breakdown So Far

Study Space Rental – $150 / day (average)

Video Camera Rental – $40 / day (for a Canon Vixia HFR HD SD Camcorder)

Borrow a friends extra smartphone or GoPro – $0

Purchase a Flexible Mount – $26.93

Create an InVision Prototype – $0

TOTAL – $216.93

 

6. Prepare a Planning Document

Planning documents come in all shapes and sizes when it comes to usability testing. Sometimes you’ll need to write out a more elaborate script for your study, and other times you need a usability study guide that outlines the main questions to ask. The level of fidelity on your planning document depends on a few things: the type of study you are running and the experience level of the moderator you’ve chosen. This step tends to be pretty intensive whether or not you are testing on a budget. I recommend checkout out the previous post in this series for a few more nuggets on spinning up a planning document. You can also check out one of my old planning documents from a previous study at RetailMeNot. I’ll be going through how to create a script and usability guide in a future e-course. Woo!

 

Cost Breakdown So Far

Study Space Rental – $150 / day (average)

Video Camera Rental – $40 / day (for a Canon Vixia HFR HD SD Camcorder)

Borrow a friends extra smartphone or GoPro – $0

Purchase a Flexible Mount – $26.93

Create an InVision Prototype – $0

Create a Planning Document – $0

TOTAL – $216.93

7. Recruit participants

Getting participants for a study can be tricky when you’re testing on a budget. Many companies use testing recruiters who have access to a huge pool of testers to choose from. However, some of us don’t have the budget for that. If your team doesn’t have the resources to hire a recruiter, I recommend starting by reaching out to your colleagues and friends to get recommendations of participants.

In the past, I’ve put together a spreadsheet on Google Sheets and sent out a link to gather participants. The only thing I would caution you on is to make sure that you interview participants that you do not know. Especially if you are in a situation where the designer is the moderator too; you want to remove as much bias as possible. If you have a friend as participant, you can bet that he or she will probably be coloring their responses because they have a prior relationship with the moderator. This would ruin the integrity and validity of the usability test.

These days, when I’m recruiting for testing on a budget, I send out a text message to the potential participant that is short, sweet and to the point. Here’s a sample of one I used recently at Favor:

“Hi Alex! This is Avani from Favor Delivery. We got your name as a recommendation from Taylor Swift as possibly being interested in a user study we’ll be running  for the Favor app. Would you be interested in sitting down with us for 1 hour and giving us feedback on some new concepts we are working on? For your time, you’ll receive a gift from Favor (Favor Credit!!) The date for this study is Friday, March 10th and the available time slot is 4pm – Please text us back if you’re interested 😊 Looking forward to hearing from you!”

Even if you are testing on a budget, I suggest recruiting 1-2 extra participants for the study and having them on standby. This way if one of scheduled participants drops out at the last minute, you can have one of the alternates participate in the study instead.

In almost every study I’ve run on a budget, at least one participant has dropped out at the last minute and it causes a lot of hectic scrambling to fill in the spot.

Trust me, you don’t want to be that person.

 

Cost Breakdown So Far

Study Space Rental – $150 / day (average)

Video Camera Rental – $40 / day (for a Canon Vixia HFR HD SD Camcorder)

Borrow a friends extra smartphone or GoPro – $0

Purchase a Flexible Mount – $26.93

Create an InVision Prototype – $0

Create a Planning Document – $0

Recruiting – $0

TOTAL – $216.93

 

8. Choose an Appropriate Incentive

You need to reward your participants for their time and feedback. In most cases, if you have an incentive, you’ll also have an easier time recruiting for the study. The most common gifts I’ve seen are a Starbucks or Amazon gift card. Some companies give away Visa gift cards as well. When testing on a budget, I’ve had success with giving away $25 in value for 1 hour of user feedback. You can choose what works best for you and feel free to get creative with the prizes.

 

Cost Breakdown So Far

Study Space Rental – $150 / day (average)

Video Camera Rental – $40 / day (for a Canon Vixia HFR HD SD Camcorder)

Borrow a friends extra smartphone or GoPro – $0

Purchase a Flexible Mount – $26.93

Create an InVision Prototype – $0

Create a Planning Document – $0

Recruiting – $0

Incentive Gift ($25 for 6 participants + 2 alternates) – $200

TOTAL – $416.93

 

9. Take Care of the Last Minute Details

Make sure everything is in place for the usability to go well. Unlike when working with a research firm, you are in charge of all the last minute things. I always make sure to bring a box of waters for the participants, masking tape and scissors (just incase), signs to put outside the door (to tell all the hooligans in the hallway to be quiet!), and something to take notes on. I also like to print the planning document.

I also recommend sending your participants a confirmation text message the night before the study to remind them with the time and location of the study.

Also, plan to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the first participant so that you can ensure you’ll have enough time to set things up!

 

Cost Breakdown So Far

Study Space Rental – $150 / day (average)

Video Camera Rental – $40 / day (for a Canon Vixia HFR HD SD Camcorder)

Borrow a friends extra smartphone or GoPro – $0

Purchase a Flexible Mount – $26.93

Create an InVision Prototype – $0

Create a Planning Document – $0

Recruiting – $0

Incentive Gift ($25 for 6 participants + 2 alternates) – $200

Water Bottles – maybe $5

Masking Tape – $2

Scissors – borrow or bring from home

TOTAL – $423.93

 

10. Conduct the Study

Time to watch all the hard work pay off! I recommend having someone in the room taking notes while the moderator is running the usability testing. It’s always great to have a backup incase any of the technology fails. (I’ve had this happen to me way too many times). Keep in mind that the usability test is not the place to draw conclusions or get frustrated. Usability testing is meant to be a forum to gather and record feedback. It’s a very academic task. So, try to be as open-minded and unbiased as you can while running or observing the usability test.

And there you have it!

These ten steps will not only save your company money, but it will skyrocket your value as a creative individual. If you can get great at running usability studies on a budget, I guarantee you that great opportunities will be falling into your lap. Testing on a budget is a skillset that has a healthy demand, and yet very few people know how to make it happen. Using the ten steps listed above, I’ve been able to consistently run usability studies for under $500. Which, by the way, is a steal.

 

You can see the final cost breakdown below:

Complete Cost Breakdown

Study Space Rental – $150 / day (average)

Video Camera Rental – $40 / day (for a Canon Vixia HFR HD SD Camcorder)

Borrow a friends extra smartphone or GoPro – $0

Purchase a Flexible Mount – $26.93

Create an InVision Prototype – $0

Create a Planning Document – $0

Recruiting – $0

Incentive Gift ($25 for 6 participants + 2 alternates) – $200

Water Bottles – maybe $5

Masking Tape – $2

Scissors – borrow or bring from home

TOTAL – $423.93

 

As before, all you have to do is work the process!

And with that, we’ve come to the end of the final part of the three-part series, #UsabilitiesUnleashed. Check out the other posts in this series:

  1. The Importance of Usability Testing for Your Business
  2. How to Create and Run Effective Usability Tests
  3. How to Run Formal Usability Testing on a Budget (and Save Thousands!)

 

Join UX Queen subscribers and receive instant access to

RESOURCES, ARTICLES & FREEBIES FOR ENTREPRENEURS, DESIGNERS, AND PRODUCT CREATORS.

  • Verity King

    Love the post! What valuable information! Thanks for sharing! xV

    • Avani

      So glad you enjoyed it!! 🙂