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January 2021

User Testing on a Budget

Why the phrase “we don’t have the budget” isn’t an excuse for not conducting user testing

A client/product owner comes to you with a requirement— creating a new piece of functionality, updating a websites architecture, working out why the bounce rate of a basket page is so high — whatever it may be, you, as the researcher, have been tasked with finding a solution. So, you conduct your internal research, present your findings, and the designers create a prototype solution to show the relevant stakeholders. At this stage, there could be more back and forth of ideas, iterations until everyone is happy. That is until you realise the most important person you’ve forgotten to ask; the customer.

It’s then your responsibility, as the advocate for users, to push for customers to be involved in the process. They should see the prototyped solution before any development goes ahead, to ensure that you’re on the right path. You recommend conducting usability testing with current customers, bringing them into trial the solution and pay them for their time. Alas, the request is often met with something along the lines of...

“We don’t have the budget”

So, you trudge on, hoping your solution is usable, accessible, efficient — all the elements of good user experience. After hearing this one too many times, and seeing the impact of not user testing before going live, realising you’d need to become creative. When the budget, whether this is time or money constraints, was not available, we have found the following techniques effective for bringing a customer-centric perspective to the project, even when the budget for full user testing is not available.

Guerilla testing

Any user researcher will probably guess what method we’re going to bring up here. Known as the “quick and dirty” approach to user testing, guerilla testing often gets a bad rep. User Zoom defines it as the process of “gathering user feedback by taking a design or prototype into the public domain and asking passersby for their thoughts”. It is a low cost, quick testing method which is brilliant for getting multiple opinions on your solution. It does have its drawbacks, as the people you approach may not meet the defined customer criteria, so might not find issues that your actual audience would face. To mitigate this, if possible, try to take your solution to an environment where these types of customers might frequent.

Bring user research into the process

If time is a big issue, this is likely because the current process does not have customer feedback as a stage in the process. Ironically, whilst we often work in teams that practice Agile Software Development, we often fail to meet the criteria from the original Agile Manifest, UX Mastery has a great article on embedding user testing in an agile environment, testing small but often. Having these stages in place before the next stage of development can happen will hopefully make everyone aware of why user testing is so important. In fact, it’s a great opportunity for you to invite stakeholders to user testing sessions, allowing them to see first hand what customers want.


The value of user testing can not be underestimated. It is a vital stage of the product life cycle, ensuring customer’s needs are met. Everyone should have a customer-centered mindset, regardless of their job title. Being inventive in your user testing methods, pushing the boundaries when “no” is the answer, will give you the ammunition as the researcher to make user testing a key part of the process.

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