The benefits of guerrilla testing

By Hannah Clements

So it really wouldn’t be moral of us to push the benefits of ‘guerrilla testing’ and then remain sitting in the safe haven of the Tower Block, merrily creating things for our customers with no customer input. We want to be more of a ‘Do as I say AND as I do’ kind of team.

This type of user research is becoming an integral part of HQ Digital’s day to day work – venturing ‘out in the wild’ / Aylesbury town centre to really and truly try better understand our customers’ needs.

I’ve never had an issue talking to customers – in-fact it’s one of my favourite things to do – but as a new member of HQ Digital, a novice form builder (putting it politely) and general-life perfectionist, I was naturally nervous about taking out a form I’d created that was at such an early stage in its development.

But this really is the great thing about user research – get it in early! It’ll help reassure you you’re going in the right direction, or help reshape your design to meet its purpose – fulfilling the customer need.

With a more experienced user researcher and form designer by my side, I made the journey from the 12th floor to Aylesbury Lending Library, ready to hear the fate of my redesigned ‘Feedback and Complaints’ form.

It couldn’t have gone better! With this ‘out in the wild’ style you’re not guaranteed who you’re going to encounter – but that’s the beauty of it. We had seven willing customers ranging from students to those post-work, those who could use a laptop with their eyes closed and those who needed a little guidance. And (as if by magic) we even came across the Head of Complaints for a National Service.

Although those who were not so computer literate felt they weren’t providing us with much to take away, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our customer needs are diverse and we must recognise that when designing our online offering.

We gathered some invaluable feedback and suggestions that we are now pursuing – which may not have been possible if we were further down the line in the design process. Once we’ve made these changes it’ll be back out into the wild to retest.

The moral of the story? It’s okay to test when something isn’t ‘perfect’. In fact, it’s much, much better.

Making sure we’re building what our customers want

Person 1: So you made a web page/tool for your customers, does it give them what they need?

Person 2: Yes!

Person 1: Did you ask them?

Person 2: Well no… we just know!

All too common a conversation. How do we know if we’ve got it right if we don’t actually ask our customers? We can run an online survey but the chances of a customer completing the survey could be low. For example, how many times have you filled in our user survey on our website?

We have been learning about the benefits of ‘guerrilla testing’, the idea of quickly getting an opinion from a potential user by just going out on the street and asking them. The idea fills many with fear but the outcomes are great and you don’t have to wait for results.

Who do I test it with?

You start with thinking of your audience; It’s a page about school information? Try outside the school gates at 3:00pm. Most common places could be as simple as a café with a wide range of customers. Make sure you get permission from the owners of the premises before starting.

GDS recommend around 6-12 participants in each round, that should give you a clear enough view of what worked and what didn’t. If more than one of you go, one can take notes while the other does the testing with the customer.

How do I approach someone?

This is a bit of a hill to overcome for some, but really don’t worry, you’ll soon find how nice and helpful people can be. Tell them who you are and how long it would take, you can even offer them an incentive like a cup of coffee or a muffin if you’re feeling generous.


“Sorry to disturb you, we’re from *******. Could you spare a few minutes to give us some feedback on a web page we’ve been designing?”

Sometimes using the words “User testing” might make them feel uncomfortable, like they might be the ones being tested. Make sure you’re clear that we just want their thoughts so we can make it better for them.

You can also use recording software to record the user’s voice and movement on the screen, just remember to get permission from the customer and be clear what will happen to the recording after the session. A written consent form with your contact details should also be given.

When to start testing?

Anytime! Draw it on a piece of paper if needs be, just don’t get too far in your design before actually asking customers about it. It will help you get an idea if you’re going in the right direction with it.

After your first set of testing, make some improvements and go out and test it again!