Here is why you should do UX testing outside the target field

Depending on the product you are developing, sometimes it makes more sense to test outside the target demographic than it does focusing on a niche audience. Our guest author explains why.

You can’t have the UX industry, or user testing, without the users. After all, they are exactly why UX testing exists. Through their individual needs and experiences, you learn how to shape a design or a product.

Since most products, services or designs have a particular purpose, they also have an ideal demographic. This would lend credence to the idea that you need to stick with that demographic during testing. After all, they are the audience you’re trying to appease, so they know what strengths and weaknesses are important.

But this is the wrong line of thinking. By being too granular about the users you recruit for testing, you are eliminating the potential to reach a greater audience. Yes, there’s always an ideal demographic, but that doesn’t mean you should forget everyone else at the same time. Your products and services should be efficient and easy to use for everyone.

That is the primary reason why you should conduct usability tests outside the targeted field or demographic. Of course, you won’t adopt this strategy on faith alone, so we’re also going to explore some other reasons for doing this.

What are the benefits of doing UX testing outside the targeted field?

Career Foundry defines usability as “the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object”, which means it’s all about the experience and flow of a design and not the users themselves. Conducting UX testing outside the targeted field ensures your product or service is convenient for a wider audience.

Did you know just a 10% improvement in a company’s customer experience score can translate into a $1 billion revenue difference? That’s insane, and it’s exactly why reaching a wider audience should always be in the back of your mind.

You may not understand your target audience

It’s tough to admit it when this is true, but it does happen. You think you know your ideal demographic, so you set up a screener or filter to find the right folks for your UX testing, only to realize you were wrong. Since usability testing is often expensive, targeting the wrong audience can be a costly mistake.

Even if you know who your target audience is, you may not fully understand what they want or need.

The solution is to expand your test to include users outside your targeted field. The extra users may give you insights into other demographics or even reveal more about your target demographic.

The product or service can be tested quickly

If your product or service can be tested fairly quickly — about 15 minutes or less — then you’re much better off targeting a general demographic. Why?

Because if your product can be tested that quickly, it’s clearly something everyone can use. Regardless of whether that’s what you intend for your product or if it’s accessible to everyone, that’s the group that’s going to use it.

So, in this case, you’ll want to plan accordingly and test a broader spectrum of users.

Your product requires minimal instruction or prior experience

If your product already requires minimal instruction to use, there’s no need to run a niche usability testing campaign. The same is true if prior experience or knowledge is unnecessary when using the product.

As with the point above, this is because it’s accessible to everyone by default. So, you’ll want to plan accordingly and test a general user base instead of a specific one.

You don’t have any direct competitors

If you don’t have direct competition or products to compare yours to, there’s little need to focus on a targeted demographic.

The point of usability testing is to find and fix experience and design problems, not to find out more about your audience. When you’re entering a market with little to no competition, you’re probably not going to know much about your audience besides who they are.

If you confine your UX testing sessions to that particular audience, you’re missing out on insights big time, especially when you’re not under any competitive constraints.

You need to offer cross-platform support

Did you know mobile users are five times more likely to abandon a task or site if it’s not optimized for mobile? So, if you focus your usability testing on desktop users, for instance, you’re eliminating most of your audience right away.

Simply put, the same people who browse a portal via desktop may not always be the same folks browsing via mobile. Mobile users are generally on the go and live hyperactive lives. But the funny thing about that is some mobile users prefer to stick with their mobile device even when they’re at home. In fact, 77% of mobile search is done at home or work even when there’s a computer nearby.

This can make it extremely confusing for anyone trying to target a specific platform, especially if there’s no need to do that in the first place.

By opening up your UX testing sessions to a greater audience, you’re also opening up your product for testing across many platforms.

Your product is niche

Niche product owners operate under the assumption that they need to focus on a target demographic because their product is niche. This is not only detrimental to the design of your product or service but also to your future customers.

To market a niche product, you must persuade potential customers that they need what you have. Sadly, you cannot persuade anyone to do anything if they don’t understand what you have to offer. You can learn this by opening up your UX testing to a greater audience and watching how users interact with your product.

This is also a great way to find kinks or problems with your product that need to be ironed out before you go to market — exactly what UX testing is for, right?

Your product’s social impact is questionable

If you’re not sure how your product will fare via social media or word of mouth, you should consider testing with a greater demographic. Outside users will be able to tell you the features and details of their experience as someone not familiar with your product.

You can then use this information and apply it for things other than to improve usability. In other words, you get more value out of your testing.

For example, let’s say a potential customer — outside of your target field — comes in and identifies an intuitive and new way to use your product other than what was intended. You’re probably not going to build an entire marketing campaign on this type of thing, but it is worth mentioning at some point. When you do, that will also expand your target audience more. It’s a win-win situation, really.

You learn more with a bigger audience

A whooping 84% of companies plan to increase their focus on customer experience measurements and metrics. The most obvious way to do that is to conduct UX tests and track everything that’s happening.

It’s no secret that when you’re taking measurements and recording metric data, you want to be as thorough as possible. And that is exactly why you want to include a wider audience when testing. You’ll learn much more from them and their experiences than if you confine the sessions to just a small group or demographic.

You can take this information and apply it in a lot of ways, again getting more value out of your testing.

About the author

Lexie Lu is a designer and blogger. She continuously researches trends in the web and graphic design industry. She writes weekly on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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