An Introduction to Guerrilla Usability Testing

January 3, 2019 | Wendy Trem
guerrilla testing


Let’s say you’re looking for some serious user research to improve your website’s overarching user experience (UX), but you can’t afford to waste any additional time or money. How do you form a study group with no time to carefully recruit your users? And how can you get real feedback on your user interface without the money to conduct extensive tests?

Welcome to guerrilla usability testing, the UX professional’s secret weapon when time and money are of essence. Conducting user tests through a guerrilla-style deployment is a quick, inexpensive and effective option to gain user insight.

Obviously, there are other reasons for using guerrilla testing that don’t involve tight budgets. But in order to effectively use guerrilla usability testing, you should have a good understanding of what it is, how it works, and the best way to go about getting results.

In this article, we’ve come up with an introduction to help you understand the basics of guerrilla usability testing so that you and your team are ready to disperse and conduct your testing at a moment’s notice.

How guerrilla testing works

Guerrilla usability testing is not quite the same as guerrilla warfare, but the two are called “guerrilla” for a reason. This unique type of testing is a way to obtain user feedback by going into the field and choosing random participants.

As opposed to targeting a specific user demographic, as a guerrilla tester you choose participants in coffee shops, libraries or any other public space to test out your user experience.

Instead of having to set up times and places to conduct usability tests, your guerrilla testing is done live. This makes it cheap, fast and incredibly easy.

By testing this way, you can get feedback quickly and easily, without having to test a hundred different users. Gavin Harris of Box UK recommends between 6 and 12 users for a guerrilla test. This might not seem like much, but he also writes: “Guerrilla testing is perfectly suited to testing as part of a broader expert usability review in order to help identify and prioritize issues with an existing solution or service.” 

Seeking a small number of users will obviously save you time. And depending on your target audience, the form of testing could end up giving you some interesting feedback.

The process

Before you start, it’s a good idea to have the target user in mind. Who are they? Where might you find them? But if you’re looking for a truly diverse and random test group, you can also accomplish that just as easily with a guerrilla usability test.

Another important thing to do before going into a guerrilla test is to have a set number of tasks for the participants to complete. As you can guess, these tasks are what your team will be analyzing the UX based on.

Some good areas to test for e-commerce websites include:

  • Sign in capabilities
  • Adding items to cart
  • Confirm payment details
  • Access checkout page
  • Change delivery address
  • Print confirmation

Obviously, the amount of website functions you can conduct testing on depends heavily upon the amount of time you have. So it’s also important to consider what’s really important, which are usually the most basic functions. Think about basic functions that users should know how to use with no prior knowledge, such as the tasks listed above. Will your test participants be able to give you the feedback you need on them? If not, they might be too specific to test on the public. Narrowing down the test to basic functionality can save you time and energy.

Once you have your target users and specific goals in mind, you can get out there and start testing. Just be sure you have all the technology you need and the power supply to keep it running.

Why go guerrilla?

If you’re rapidly approaching a deadline and have no time or resources to set up an official test, it can be a great and lucrative option.

As Markus Pirker of Userbrain writes, “We did hundreds of (guerrilla) usability tests for both our businesses - Userbrain & Simplease - and have not yet come across a single one where there wasn’t at least one minor problem found.”

But there are other reasons to choose guerrilla usability testing.

Guerrilla is also a great way to introduce the idea of usability testing. Because it’s so quick, easy and low-pressure, it can be a great option for getting started.

In order to conduct guerrilla usability tests, you usually have to find users that have only basic knowledge of your interface. Even if they know nothing about it, they should be able to perform basic tasks. If they are unable to accomplish simple goals, you will have an immediate and obvious answer as to what’s not working.

By starting out the guerrilla way, you can go into your next round of usability tests with some basic improvements already in place.

How to use insights

Once your tests are complete, you will want to use the findings in the most optimal way. Who are you presenting for? What do they need to make the interface the best it can be?

Because the test is quick and uses fewer participants, you can create a concise report, video or presentation to highlight the biggest findings. Make sure to keep in mind the most important feedback that your stakeholders or developers are looking for.

As we stated before, testing users on basic functions should give you the most obvious opportunities for redesign. Sometimes these issues hide in plain sight, so it’s never a bad thing to bring them to light.

How to get started

A good first question to ask is: Do you need guerrilla testing? If you’re not crunched for time or the budget can fit a more comprehensive test, then opt out.

But if you do need a quick, inexpensive test to gain insight on basic UX functions, then guerrilla might be the way to go.

“First things first,” Emilie Grace Adiseshiah of Usability Geek recommends. “Think about what you are testing. Having a firm understanding of the scope of your user research is key to a successful guerrilla usability study.”

If you go in knowing what you need, who you need, and what you need to do with the information gathered, your guerrilla usability test will make it easy to redesign and greatly improve your user experience.

Want to learn more about optimizing your user and customer experience? Falls Digital’s website features insights, case studies, and other resources to help take your digital presence to new levels.


Topics: User Experience Customer Experience Usability Testing

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