You are not your own worst tester

By Nicholas Rougeux, posted on April 17, 2007 in Web

When creating an application or a Web site, a rule of thumb is that you should not be the tester in your own usability test. I mostly agree with this, but when you are short on time, budget, and testers, testing yourself can prove to be just as useful.

Why shouldn't we test our own projects? Because we are too close to them and know how to work around known issues. The more we do this instead of fixing them, the more likely it is that those issues fall by the wayside and don't end up getting fixed. However, if you can separate yourself enough from your own project, you can pinpoint a lot of remaining issues by yourself. As the saying goes, "you are your own worst cricic," so you may find things that others won't. You may be your own worst critic but you are not your own worst tester.

How? To be blunt, play dumb. Use your project the way it is intended and assume nothing about it. It may sound simplistic but that is what happens during testing, so why not try it yourself?

Let's say you were building a site that let users fill out a complicated survey comprising several steps. Test it by using real data if possible. That's it. You're likely to run into several areas that need fixing or adjusting. The key to doing this is to essentially shut off the part of your brain that built the site and pretend you're using a site you've never seen before. This can be a little difficult but the more you do it, the better you'll get.

Another key aspect is to use real data whenever possible. For example:

  • If you're building a survey, use real data to see if it works and makes sense.
  • If you're building an image cropper, find a photo you like and try to crop it the way you would like.
  • If you're building the next great link sharing app, find something you want to share and share it.

Using test data is fine during development to iron out the technical bugs but you have to remember that when people use what you create, they're going to use their own real data.

With that said, I am still a firm supporter of more structured testing like usability tests. They can reveal a wealth of information about any project, but if you're just about ready to hand off a project to your supervisor, coworker, or another tester, give it a test yourself and see if it actually does what it's meant to do. What you find out may surprise you.

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