What is guerrilla testing and how do I use it?

A UX beginner’s guide to the what, why and how of guerrilla testing. The pros, the cons and how to plan this technique into your usability strategy.

lion camouflaged in the wild

What is guerrilla testing?

Guerrilla testing is as wild as it sounds. Just as the lion heads to the watering hole, UX researchers head to public spaces, approaching those who we can convince that we’re not asking for money.

Guerrilla testing is a way to gather cheap and fast feedback from the average person. By getting out and about, asking people what they think of your idea or getting them to use your wireframes.

What isn’t guerrilla testing?

I know what you’re thinking, ‘you’re telling me there’s a cheap and fast usability technique? One which I can walk outside and use as an excuse to pester people?’. Yes, but that’s not to say there aren’t any limitations to this quick and cheap research.

Firstly you are not guaranteed to have anyone agree to answer your questions. Secondly, the people you approach may be so far off spec that you never uncover issues your actual audience faces.

Guerrilla testing is far from thorough, especially compared to other research or testing techniques.

Why choose guerrilla testing?

So why choose guerrilla testing as a research method or technique? Sometimes you just need a fresh pair of eyes on a solution.

Guerrilla testing allows you to go out, and ask anyone their thoughts on your product or service. There is no waiting around for recruiters to find people exactly ‘on spec’ nor any travel costs for users.

Guerrilla testing is also a great way to do ad hoc user research. Whether conducting competitor analysis for similar ideas or practising your moderation skills. This type of testing will get you in front of anyone who says yes.

And while they may not be your user, they are a user of something. They’ve probably used some piece of tech in their lifetime.

How to do guerrilla testing

So, by now we know that guerrilla testing is all about getting something in front of people, whether they’re your users or not. But how exactly do we do guerrilla testing?

Always plan research or testing sessions

Firstly, think about where you can go to find users. Is the closest coffee shop the furthest away your manager will let you out during work hours? Or can you make it to places where your audience would be, like a DIY store if your users are tradesmen?

Always be sure to write a discussion guide, no matter how short or how long. Any time spent with users can prove invaluable, so always include the important questions and assumptions just in case you come across someone who is your user.

Also consider where you’re doing the testing. This will impact what you can test and how much detail you can go into. An average person may be able to raise simple usability issues, but will they understand the terminology?

What to do on the day

Start to think about the UX of you. How you come across is going to affect how people respond to your enquiries. Dress too formally to test a charity app and people may think you’re after their soul. Dress too informally to test ideas for a bank, and people may not trust you to talk about their finances.

When you’re approaching people, be confident. Your body language needs to ensure people that you’re not wasting their time. You’re there to understand someone, which in return may actually help them (especially if they turn out to be an actual user!)

It’s very easy to get yourself flustered when you’ve approached five people for only one or two to say yes. So, always use the first one or two users to allow yourself to get into the swing of things. It’s surprising how many people say yes and how much your confidence increases with every person who invites you into their life, even when it’s just for 30 minutes.

Finally, never skimp on thanking users for their time. Always plan incentives for those who talk to you. Whether it’s buying coffee for someone’s time or taking something small like chocolate.

What not to do in guerrilla testing

Just because guerrilla testing is meant to be ad hoc, it doesn’t mean it has to be entirely unplanned. Make sure you nail your introduction and plan how much time you’re going to ask of users.

It’s hard to determine how insightful Mary from up the road can be, but do not take longer than you asked for. Always ask them if they are okay with you stealing a little more time than planned. But bear in mind that you were not part of their plan. People will not be happy if you don’t respect their time, which may lead to biased and unhelpful responses to your questions.

Don’t always conduct your guerrilla testing in the same places or types of places. Any one place invites a certain type of people. So, conducting research in the same location is the equivalent of conducting research with the same demographic of people. This will not ensure a variety of users, nor help you uncover a wider variety of issues. Test in different types of places and seek out a varied audience. Take note of how many women and men and people of colour you’re approaching.

Key takeaways:

Guerrilla testing gets you in front of users; whether it’s your actual user or Joe from down the road, who uses every app under the sun apart from yours.

Just because guerrilla testing is cheap and quick, doesn’t mean you have to be. Always be armed with prepared questions. While this type of research may not be thorough, it’s a great foot in the door to show the value of spending time with users.

Like all tools and techniques, guerrilla testing is what you make of it and if you use this technique you should consider it as just one part of your overall usability testing strategy.

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Camouflaged lion by Lisa H.

Elizabeth Chesters
I'm a UX researcher in London. When I'm not pestering users, you'll find me coding. Specialising in localisation, I've set out to discover how technology can have the biggest impact around the world.

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