User tests as a proxy for seeing through the eyes of a designer

Only pic I had.... that's Will, not Eiko.
Only pic I had…. that’s Will, not Eiko.

Last week, I had an exciting experience with a user test. It was a paper prototype test of a new online service with Eiko, AQ’s graphic designer. She was the most experienced testee out of half a dozen sessions. Come to think of it, this might have been the first user test that I conducted where the testee knew what a user test was. (Are there special protocols for that!?)

We did a scenario-based test where more screens were revealed to the user as time passed. Having been on the other side of the table before, Eiko knew exactly how to verbalize her stream of consciousness in a way that gave the most insight. She would share her immediate emotion and reaction, and then answer “why did I think that?” without being prompted. She basically did the user test on herself!

The way that Eiko was able to reverse engineer her reactions was eye-opening to me. With a designer’s ability to articulate the cause and effect of the visual design and copy, those 20 minutes of her talking out loud gave me a look into how a designer processes information.

Later on, I experimented with a silent user test on myself, with the first experience for an online service that I’d been meaning to try. I mentally recorded my stream of consciousness, and then backtracked to identify what it was that induced that thought or action. I found myself picking out interface details that I would have glossed over otherwise. More interestingly, some of those small discoveries connected in my mind as applicable design solutions for an unrelated service that I’d been thinking about lately.

Asking yourself “why did I think that?”, is a simple way to dig one level deeper. That in itself isn’t a novel idea, but somehow it clicked, in the shape of a user test.