To make app development effective, start user testing early
July 2017

A while ago we were hired by a client to do app development and design project aimed at assisting Thai law enforcement and customs officials identify and report wildlife trafficking.

As per our practise of kicking off user testing as early as possible, we wanted to meet stakeholders to get their insights. In this case, the earliest we were able to meet them was after we had wireframes and other UX (user experience) deliverables ready.

Here’s what we learned.


Early user experience testing = smoother app development = faster delivery

It may sound odd, presenting an app to user testing so early in its development process, but the reality is this is critical to app development success.

The earlier testing begins, the earlier we’re able to identify features users find superfluous, annoying, or just plain incomprehensible, and can address them.

The earlier an issue is identified and handled, the less costly it is to fix – So testing early has a real-world dollar value.


Don’t be nervous about user testing – Be excited

Given that this was a government body that our client was working with, we expected attendance for the session to below, and were pleasantly surprised when we were greeted with a packed room of ranking officers, including the Directors for the Royal Thai Customs divisions for Service and Investigations!!!

It had all the elements of being an intimidating situation but actually turned out to be a very pleasant experience for everyone involved.

This is a situation we often experience when we take products to users, and managing expectations and our mindset walking into the room, are what makes all the difference in app development.

By re-framing nervousness and insecurity as excitement, we can create an atmosphere that is caught up the users, making them excited about the opportunity to interact with the prototypes and designs, and happy to provide feedback.

This was pretty much a best-case scenario – the officers immediately understood the layouts, and were able to provide valuable feedback throughout the session.


Users experience beats designer intuition

Users have never failed to provide us with incredibly important insights in any project where we’ve been able to involve them

Anytime we’re designing UX or UI for an app we try to anticipate the user’s needs as best we can, but our insights are limited by the size of our team and the talent at our disposal. By bringing users into the process we expand the scope of ideas and insight we can leverage way beyond our own abilities. This is always a good idea, and doubly so with highly specialized audiences.

Try as we may, from the comfort of the desks we must admit we have a limited understanding of the factors and considerations facing a Customs Agent in the field in the middle of a bust.


What we learned

The insights shared in this case were focused on details.

User’s inputs usually are – And that’s one of the reasons their feedback is so important, because it’s there, in the correct and careful handling of details, that a designer really has a chance to achieve greatness.

Specifically, the feedback we got, in this case, was related to:

  1. The privacy and sharing aspects of the app – Agents were very concerned about how the information input into the app would be shared and syndicated, and with good cause – In the wrong hands this data could ruin investigations and potentially put users at risk.
  2. Data fields – Comments were made regarding the priority, size and labelling of certain data entry fields.
  3. The default view for data – We learned that despite the associated usability cost of longer scrolls, agents preferred having a thumbnail view over a plain list view.



Visiting users is always a fantastic experience. Seeing users interact with prototypes for UX and UI is inspiring, energizing and motivating for designers and developers – It changes their perception of a project from being something abstract, to the understanding that they’re working on a tangible tool that will have a real effect on people. That in itself is supremely satisfying.

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