User trials

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The previous session established that the notion of the average person is a fallacy. You have probably noticed that it's quite common for ordinary things to not work very well. This is because they have not been designed with actual real users in mind. At best they have been designed for some notional "average". A core technique within user-centred design is the "user trial" where mock-ups of designs are tried out with real users to discover their shortcomings. In this session you are introduced to the principles of user trial design and management including sampling, data collection techniques and data analysis. We shall be working mainly with paper prototypes because they are quick, easy and cheap to produce and modify. Paper prototypes are often used to test Web design ideas early on, as you will have seen from the Steve Krug reading. Later in the design cycle more sophisticated tests are possible using equipment that can more precisely measure user behaviour.


In this activity you will be working in a small team to design a Web site for a specific target group, and then test it. The purpose of testing is not find out how well/badly you did, but rather to help you to understand your target users better and to help you come up with new ideas that you can try out again on users. With each iteration your understanding of the requirements improves and your ideas get better.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Create target user profiles.
  • Create user activity models.
  • Develop working prototypes of Web site designs using paper and wiki based models.
  • Carry out simple user trials using these protoypes.


This hands-on activity provides practical guidance on how to resolve web design issues quickly using paper models. You will be introduced to a user-centred methodology for determining an appropriate build/test strategy and then guided through a series of steps to produce and test a paper based micro Website design. Working in groups, your tasks are to:

  • Define some typical site users, by creating user profiles with the aid of a prompt sheet.
  • Determine what the site is for and therefore its intended outcomes when users interact with it.
  • Develop a set of user activities designed to achieve these outcomes and describe the site functionality they require.
  • Convert your activity descriptions into paper-based micro Web site design [site map and page layouts].
  • Develop a set of questions and activities for users to carry out, to test the performance of your site design.
  • Test your site, record the results and report back your findings. (To see what a typical test looks like take a look at these examples of student run user trials).

Tips for site testing

Reassure your users that they can't do anything wrong. The purpose of the exercise is to test the site design, not them. Don't tell them what your site is about, or how it works, or where to find things. If they ask where something is, or how to do something, ask them where they would expect to find it or how they would expect to be able to do it. Ask them to voice their thoughts aloud as they do the test so that you can find out what they are looking at and what they are thinking. Conduct your test in 4 distinct stages:

1. Ask the user to tell you what the site is about.

2. Ask the user to explain what they think they can do with the site.

3. Ask the user to carry out some specific tasks and get them to vocalise what is going through their minds as they do the tasks.

4. Offer users after the tests are finished an opportunity to ask you questions or give you their opinions about the site and/or the testing process.

Don't answer questions about the site the user asks you while they are testing it and dont tell them how to do things. If they ask you a question reply with a question such as "Well what do you think?" or "How do you think that can be done?".

Record what your users say and do. Use photographs, video recordings and note takers to capture as much as possible.

Take a look at these videos and compare and contrast the approaches there. What features of each approach seem to have worked best? Thinking about how these trials were done, what would you do differently and why?








Please feel free to add your own videos here.

Resources for this activity

Download and print the briefing notes File:CuttingEdgebrief 1.doc

You will also need good quality A2 cartridge paper, coloured felt tip pens, scissors and glue.

Follow this link to the PRDA Contents page to return to the module contents.

Back to the MA: Photographic History Main Page to return to the Course contents.