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Coffee shop UX - a cup of feedback to go

So, guerrilla user testing. Sure, we've all heard people say: “Just go to Starbucks and offer people coffee in exchange for testing your app”, but to me that raises a whole bunch of questions: What kind of testing can you get out of bothering people? How can you know they are the right type of user? How is the feedback you get going to be affected by the noises and distractions around you? I could go on.

Start a conversation

While this type of testing is not meant to be scientific and perfectly laid out, the general concept undoubtedly has its perks: it's quick, cheap, doesn't require extensive preparation and it's a completely open conversation with potential users that can, and should, drift from the script. Now, we're not here to say that after trying it once we're suddenly guerrilla testing experts and advocates, but we had proof that those perks are real and worth the investment, once established that you know what you're getting yourself into and you have the right expectations.

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Have a simple plan

Here's what we did:

  1. Went to a coffee shop down the road (we're based in Shoreditch. That helps. A lot);
  2. Set up a tab explaining our purpose and invited the staff to send people to us;
  3. Put up a sign to let everyone know we were offering coffee in exchange for five minutes of testing. (I originally wrote ten minutes in a naïve attempt at honesty, until my fellow UX-er rightly pointed out that five sounds less daunting and that if people were happy to stay longer they would. In the end, no-one left before 25-30 minutes had gone by);
  4. Readied the laptop with our designs and recording software;
  5. Started pestering whoever came through the door.

Our plan was to ask people about their knowledge and perception of certain topics related to the product we are trying to develop, plus we had some extremely early-stage, Balsamiq-mockup-produced sketches to gather feedback on. As a designer, I would never normally show sketches and wireframes to a non-designer for the simple fact that they are too abstract for anyone else to understand. However, this was meant to be a quick 'n' dirty test to validate the product concept, and the drawings were mainly there to give people something visual to latch onto and elicit further conversation. As long as no one expects to be getting actual design feedback, it's fine.

Listen and learn

Each session was interesting and unique in its own way and we learned a lot:

  • The chance to let the conversation with the user take its course, without a set time limit and formalised requirements, is exactly as valuable and rewarding as it sounds (especially for a product that is just starting)
  • Recording is vital, particularly for the audio synced to the screen the user was looking at, but people predictably clam up when they're being filmed, so don't expect truthful facial expressions
  • None of the testers had any idea how useful the information they were providing was to us. In various degrees, depending on age and confidence, they were eager to help and earn the rewarded coffee and would respond positively to being reassured and thanked as much as possible without sounding patronising.
  • If you have nothing but sketches, that's ok, but as soon as possible try to have a prototype people can actually play with, if only to distract them from the pressure of being under observation by giving them something to do.

In the end, we interviewed five people in three sessions (two friends and a couple were interviewed together, which was unexpected and interesting) in two-and-a-half hours, for a total of £21.35. Of all the people we approached, only one declined, saying that he was in too much of a rush.

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