Design Testing: How to Test Visual Design

Design Testing: How to Test Visual Design

Design testing refers to the process of gathering user feedback on visual design elements, such as fonts, colours, layout, and imagery. Such elements impact the way users view your brand.

For instance, an image of everyday people using your product presents your brand as friendly, while an image of people working on a product portrays your brand as innovative.

To give you an idea of how important design testing truly is, studies show that consistent branding increases revenue by 23% on average. But there’s a problem with the way many brands execute the design process.

Usually, designers and stakeholders think about what qualities they want to portray as a brand. Then they decide on design elements that fit those traits. This isn’t the best way to plan the visual design of your digital product.

Just because a designer or stakeholder thinks certain design elements make their brand seem friendly or innovative or whatever it is they’re going for, doesn’t mean users will see it that way.

You need to test real users to find out whether your visual designs portray what you want to portray and to understand whether your branding is effective. So let’s take a look at how to execute design testing effectively.

What Is Design Testing?

In design testing, users are presented with a visual stimulus, for example, a prototype or image of your digital product. It’s not enough to find out whether users simply “like” or “dislike” your design because this doesn’t tell you which brand characteristics users associate with your design.

You must use a structured approach, i.e., proven design testing methods that garner first impressions. These testing methods include a 5-second test, or a set of open-ended questions to gain deeper insights into what users think your design represents.

Implement Design Testing With Your Target Audience

You shouldn’t test your designs on your team or stakeholders. And you shouldn’t test your designs on any person off the street, either.

The goal of design testing should be to see how real people who will use your site, app, or digital product — i.e., your target audience — respond to your designs.

The first step is to list the demographics and traits of your target audience. The Teston platform helps you do this by providing segment filters that you can check off when searching for target users.

The qualities, desires, and pain points of your target audience will give you an idea of what this type of user is looking for in terms of design. But only user testing will let you know for sure whether your designs reflect their needs and desires.

Thankfully, there are a number of user testing methods you can employ to do just that.

Use Simple Design Testing Methods

Use design testing to gauge users' first impressions, which are super important. For instance, it takes users just 0.05 seconds to form an impression of the visual appeal of a web page. Here are four design testing methods you’ll want to try so you can gauge initial responses to your designs.

  1. Preference Test: Show the user two designs or two variations on a design and ask which they prefer and why.
  2. User Survey: Ask the user questions about details and features of the design.
  3. 5-Second Test: Show the user your design for just five seconds and ask for their first impressions.
  4. First-Click Test: Ask the user to complete a single action on your web page.

These are short and simple tests, perfect for testing a singular detail or task. However, user tests can also go beyond first impressions and provide deeper insights into what users think about your aesthetics and branding.

Unmoderated user testing platforms like Teston work well because you can test users at scale. It’s cost- and time-effective. Plus, usability testing is necessary to the design process.

Test the Usability of Your Designs

The appeal of a design directly relates to user experience. Through our work here at Teston, we’ve found that when something has a clean design that’s aesthetically-pleasing, people feel it’s easier to use.

For instance, a nicely balanced, minimalist design helps users find what they’re looking for easily. Poor design makes a product difficult to use.

Imagine you were trying to shop on this e-commerce site:

Design testing: a poorly designed e-commerce page

The design is cluttered, many of the images don’t load, and the site uses multiple sliders. All of these are design elements that lead to poor UX.

On the other hand, it’s also possible for a design to look great with typography and colours that work well together and a good use of white space and so on, but the site may still be difficult to use, thus lessening the appeal of the design. This further emphasises the need for interaction design.

According to Miklos Philips at Toptal, "Well-executed interaction design plays a huge role in the implementation of great UX and is indisputably one of the fundamentals of UX design principles. 'Unusable' means 'I'm moving on,' and no matter how 'good looking' the visual design — how fancy that animation is — mess up the interaction design and your UX is kaput."

As you can see, design testing and usability testing are interlinked. So let’s take a look at how you can perform usability tests for your designs.

Test Design Prototypes

Prototyping is a good way to measure the effectiveness of your designs before they're finalised. High-fidelity, clickable prototypes provide a realistic version of your final product.

By testing prototypes you can assess the usability of design elements. For instance, you could find out if your chosen typography is clear enough or if the visual hierarchy leads users in the right direction. To do this, we recommend task-based user testing as outlined below.

Have Users Complete Tasks While Using Your Product

Whether you’re testing a design prototype or hoping to improve the design of an existing product, the best way to analyse usability is by setting tasks for users to complete. At Teston, we offer user recordings so you get to see how users interact with your product in real time.

Let’s say the user’s task is to book an appointment for a consultation with your company. By analysing user recordings, you may find that a design element is preventing users from doing so quickly and easily. For example, your CTA button doesn’t stand out against the background colour.

Ask users to share their thoughts and feelings as they go through tasks, and you may gain unprompted design insights. But if you wish to ask the user specific design-related questions, it’s better to wait until after they have completed the tasks.

Gather Feedback at the Conclusion of the Tasks

Once users have completed their task scenarios, you can provide a test script with questions about the visual design of your product. Asking at the end means your user tests go beyond first impressions.

You get user feedback on the overall design, and the usability thereof, across the entire user journey.

At this point you can ask questions that will indicate how your design reflects your branding. You might ask open-ended questions like, “What is the purpose of this mobile app?” or “How would you describe this website in your own words?”

Essentially, through usability testing, you have the chance to analyse how users interact with and respond to your designs.

Design Testing and Usability Testing Go Hand in Hand

Visual design impacts branding and usability. Designers and stakeholders shouldn’t make design decisions alone. Design testing is necessary to acquire feedback from real users of your digital product.

The first step of testing visual design is establishing your target audience. Recruiting testers from your target audience is the only way to ensure your designs meet their needs. You can then discover your target audience’s first impressions of your design via preference tests or first-click tests, for example.

Usability testing takes your design tests a step further. It helps you establish whether design elements are also functional and whether they lead users in the direction you hope. For instance, does the typography establish a clear visual hierarchy that draws the eye to your call-to-action?

All in all, usability testing should be a major part of the design process. Try Teston for free to discover how user testing can help improve your visual designs.