Some thoughts on field testing apps

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In the developing process, we try to conduct field testing of software and apps on different stages. Since one of the apps we’re developing right now have more or less an educational direction, this time it was natural to team up with a local music school in order to get hands-on feedback from potential future users. We visited Kulturama, the largest school for artistic studies in the Nordic countries, a sunny day in the beginning of June.

Our employee Leif Ottosson has been involved in several testing situations and when asked to share some thoughts on field testing, this was his five main points (in no particular order):

1. Use field test forms

This might be an obvious point, but clearly it gives us a good overview of the results and findings. In this case we asked the students both to share their thoughts and verdicts during the test using a simple form on paper, and afterwards using an online form.

2. Keep it simple
Avoid misunderstanding by using straight-forward and simple questions. This should be no surprise to anyone but nonetheless a crucial point. Try to look at the questions from the perspective of the focus group, with their experience and knowledge.

3. Choose the free text questions carefully
Using to many questions that are to be answered with a free text might lead to a situation when only a specific kind of test persons will answer. Sometimes it’s a good idea to combine free text answers with matrix/closed questions. Eg. ”Does the app have an unique value?” (Yes/no) and ”In that case, what kind of value” (free text). With this said, open questions are of great importance and will give insights and ideas that otherwise would be missed.

4. Keep it short and concise
Let’s face it, most people like trying out apps more than evaluating them. Therefore it is crucial to keep the evaluation lenght down. The focus group and their span of patience will determine the actual lenght, but we tend to keep the time needed to a maximum of 5 minutes. The user can follow the remaining time and the progress of the form.

5. Combine the test form with observations
This is a two-egged sword since the knowledge of being observed might lead to a different behavior. At the same time, it’s very valuable to catch instant reactions that can’t be transfered to a piece of paper or an online form.

What’s your best practices, tips and tricks at an early alpha stage of development?