The more time I’ve spent user testing, the more I’ve realized that determining “truth” about an interface is only one of its functions. User testing can indeed provide valuable quantitative findings from very small samples (contra those that describe it as purely “qualitative”) – yet generating empathy is another key function of user testing.
Each testing session is a sort of kabuki theatre, with facilitator and participants donning masks and performing roles for an audience. Like all good theatre, an aim of such a performance should be to remove the audience from its comfortable bubble and come to understand the feelings, frustrations and needs of others. A good user testing session should achieve this just as much as it provides hard data. I’ll outline my thoughts about this in the rest of this post.