Learnings from #UXNZ2015 from a tester's perspective

New Thinking 9 December 2015 Rupert Burton

At the end of October, I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by Assurity to attend #UXNZ2015 in Wellington, a national conference dedicated to user experience (UX). Some of my fellow delegates were surprised to find a tester at this conference and were interested to hear why I was there...

As a tester, I've rarely had contact with those involved in UX or much involvement in the design process and having spoken to other testers, it seems my experience is not unique. So why should I want to attend this conference?

Our role as testers is to provide relevant information to our stakeholders so that they can make informed decisions. Not all relevant information can be obtained through comparison with a requirements document. Some of the techniques and research often performed by UX people can provide valuable information that might otherwise be missed when taking a traditional functional test approach.

In the absence of a UX professional, we as testers might want to perform some of these activities that might otherwise be neglected. Specifically, I'm talking about usability, accessibility and user research.

So, what did I learn from the UX conference? Primarily, it reaffirmed my belief that UX is an important element of user interface development and that mistakes can easily be avoided with even a small consideration in this area. But I also learned a whole lot more.

To share my experience with others, I've split my learnings into three categories:

Generic stuff that's useful for everyone

  • Survey Octopus – for anyone designing surveys, you should check out Caroline Jarrett’s slides
  • Sketching for fun and profit – Matt Magain gave some great tips to improving your communication with simple sketching techniques
  • Improvisation – You can learn a lot from improvisation to help with communication and design solutions. For example, Improv is about building on the ideas of your colleagues. So next time you’re in a meeting, instead of disagreeing with someone, try saying ‘Say, and…’ This way, you build on their idea and leave it open for them to reciprocate
  • Improv can also work in conflict situations. If someone says something offensive, instead of disagreeing with them or remaining silent, try saying ‘yes’. This can surprise and confuse them as they will be expecting a confrontation or to intimidate you. At very least, it will likely cause a pause giving you some vital thinking time or the chance to simply walk away

Stuff for running a better organisation

  • People work better it they get to chose their own roles
  • Employees are more engaged if you give them the opportunity to develop new ideas – e.g. quarterly hackathon events
  • Employees are more engaged and work better when they have a sense of ownership. Studio Pacific Architecture did this by giving all long-term staff a profit share and encouraging the community spirit through weekly shared morning teas and drinks where everyone pitches in and team-building events such as camping and canoeing trips with full team

Stuff with a good crossover with testing (and development)

  • Combining qualitative and quantitative user research techniques will increase its effectiveness
  • Good UI design should be iterative – don’t try to get it perfect first time, just release something and listen to the feedback
  • User research doesn't have to be costly or complicated – try using analytics or contacting the help desk for common complaints. There are also tools available to give you information such as heat maps (crazy egg) showing user activity and navigation
  • When thinking about navigation – search boxes are great when the user:
    • Knows what they are looking for
    • How to describe it
    • Knows when they’ve found it
  • Navigation links are better if the user:
    • Doesn’t know what they’re looking for
    • Doesn’t know how to describe it
    • Doesn’t know when they’ve finished searching
  • UX people share a few things in common with testers:
    • We can come into conflict with developers
    • We all want to produce the best product we can

We also have something in common with developers that I was previously unaware of – developers often get frustrated waiting for UX people to deliver their design concepts in the same way that testers get frustrated waiting for code to be delivered.

Random one liners

  • Keep your stakeholders informed at all stages. Stuff happens and decisions are made when you're not around. So keeping them informed at all times helps ensure that the best decisions are made
  • When you next meet someone from PwC, they'll be wearing a blue suit. Ask to see their socks
  • “Time makes fools of best practice and rules” meaning that experience in context beats following guidelines any day


User experience is vital to the delivery of a good product and even a small amount is better than none.

There was plenty of valuable information to be had at the UX conference. Very little of it was solely related to UX. If you get the chance next year, it’s well worth attending.