User experience (UX) designers are responsible for human interactions and with this comes a good deal of influence and responsibility.

One essential phase of UX design is the user testing phase.  Testing provides critical user data which informs UX designers of the viability and usability of their products.  Although UX testing is critical a UX designer must consult their moral compass and consider ethical guidelines when undertaking any testing.  Here are a few things to consider.

Is this test needed?

Is this User Group Inclusive?Is this test necessary or appropriate?  Data from testing can pinpoint needed improvements.  However, not all prototypes are ready to be tested.  Before you subject a test group to the prototype consider whether you have iterated to a point where you need input.  UXPA Magazine’s article titled Should We Conduct this Usability Study?  suggests conducting a one-minute inspection before considering any UX test.  Testing should be delayed if a product is deemed to be likely to fail.  Deal with critical issues prior to any user testing initiation.

When selecting test participants, the UX specialist needs to ensure that bias is avoided.  Does the test group match the user group?  Is the test group inclusive and diverse?  Facilitating a test which includes all ranges of the user group will ensure a full-spectrum analysis and provide data to ensure that deliverables are being developed from an inclusive and equitable perspective.  The Nielson Norman Group makes the case that only 5 subjects are necessary for an effective test.  Completing multiple studies through multiple iterations with small test groups will lead to a more improved outcome.  But let’s make sure these tests include diverse subjects to ensure the equity and the usability of the final outcome.

What about privacy?

User testing subjects are putting a lot of faith in UX specialist to protect them and their information.  All testing needs to include some level of informed consent as well as assurances of respect, privacy and confidentiality.  Interactive Design Foundation  asks a few pointed questions to UX designers in their article about ethical and legal guidelines for freelancers. “How will you collect, use and store data?” As well as, “How will you protect data once collected?”  Putting practices in place to ensure data is either protected or anonymized is crucial in the digital sphere.

Be honest with the data!

Data from testing is gold.  Be diligent and ensure that all of the test results are given equal weight and equal priority.  Bias is tricky.  Bias in the sample group or bias in data reporting can lead to skewed results.  As usertesting.com points out, biases can subconsciously lead researchers to lean towards data which supports their hypothesis.  Proactively plan for this by identifying assumptions prior to testing.  Knowledge of these assumptions will allow you to compare and contrast raw data with your assumptions during the testing process.

Do No Harm.

Realizing a test can not be performed without causing harm needs to cue the UX designers to find alternative solutions, to both the product and the test.Just as a doctor might take a Hippocratic oath so must a UX tester be sure that any prototype testing will do no harm.  Ensuring inclusivity in test subjects is important but also ensuring the test will not be overly taxing or cause undue stress is important.   Including subjects with accessibility issues is important but ensuring that all testing will not cause exhaustion or harm is also necessary.  UXPA magazine discussed this very issue in an article about the user testing of a two-button switch.  The switch was designed to be used by people with dexterity issues.  Planning showed that the testing process would be extensive and laborious.  When confronted with this issue the researchers realized this testing could actually lead to extreme fatigue and possibly lasting physical discomfort for the test subject.  Ultimately, the researchers realized they would not be able to perform a thorough test.

Wrap up.

UX testing can be as simple as a low-fidelity paper template or as extensive as a high-fidelity highly interactive interface.  The format used to deliver the test is not important.  The important thing to remember is that each test subject is a person.  The people that participate in research deserve respect and protection.   Recommendations vary as to who to include and when and how to proceed with testing but, in a society that is striving for equity, we need to remember that we should not plan for equity after the fact.  Equity needs to be top of mind during the design and testing phases to ensure that accommodations are not necessary after the fact.   Even if you are only testing with five users be sure to include a diverse and broad selection of users.  Your data will thank you.

One last tidbit, here is a link to a UX code of conduct!